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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

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This Bug Doesn't Bite ... But It Can Stink Up Your House!

There’s a new bug in town, and it’s causing quite a stink. The brown marmorated stink bug, named for its brown spots, showed up in the United States about 10 years ago and is sneaking into people’s houses.

Outdoors, it could damage apples, peaches and cotton and soybean plants. But for now, the biggest problem is indoors – what the stink bug does when the weather turns cool in the fall.

It crawls through cracks in homes and other buildings, looking for a warm place to stay. Many insects can’t survive the winter cold. But these bugs work their way under siding, around window and door frames, under roof shingles and into crawl spaces. Once inside, they go into a state of hibernation and wait for winter to pass.

The stink bugs don’t harm people. But they will release an unpleasant odor, which scientists think is a kind of defensive weapon to prevent birds and lizards from eating them. Sometimes the warmth in the house wakes them up, and they fly clumsily around a room. If left undisturbed, the stink bugs will “wake up” in the spring and will leave the houses and buildings, but they may return in the fall.

No one is sure how the stink bug got here. It is originally from Asia and may have sneaked into the United States in a shipping crate.

To fight this pest, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists are trying to find ways to keep it from spreading, including developing a trap that will keep the bug out of houses and farm fields. They are conducting experiments designed to find chemicals the bugs release to attract each other, known as pheromones. The scientists hope to reproduce man-made versions of the pheromones so they can lure the bugs into traps.

There are several kinds of stink bugs. Another kind, the brown-winged green bug, has been attacking crops for years in Japan. Scientists there have designed a trap that uses one of that bug’s pheromones as a lure. Using that same chemical mixture, ARS scientists were able to trap and count the numbers of brown marmorated stink bugs at research sites in Maryland. The counts show the stink bug numbers are increasing. It makes finding a pheromone that can be reproduced and put into a new stink bug trap all the more important.

If you find a stink bug, do NOT squash it or vacuum it up or it will release its unpleasant odor. The best way to get a brown stink bug out of your house is to allow it to walk onto something like a newspaper and carry it outside. You also could gently collect it on a piece of tissue and flush it down the toilet.––By Dennis O’Brien, Agricultural Research Service Information Staff

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Last Modified: 2/14/2011
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