The Brown Marmorated Stink Bug: What You Need to Know

– Posted in: Pests, Plagues, and Varmints
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stinkbug anatomy

Most of you don’t realize it, but Cold Climate Gardening is host to a secret club, the Stink Bug Haters Club. It all started innocently enough with this post. But as more and more stink bug sufferers found the post and took advantage of the Subscribe to Comments feature, it started to take on a life of its own, with the various visitors sharing disgust and stink bug capture and killing tips. I haven’t had much trouble with these bugs myself, but I’ve always wanted to provide the people who’ve been commenting with more information. I finally tracked down some experts, Amanda Koppel and Dr. Kim Hoelmer, to write a guest post.

The changing of the seasons: spring brings with it new growth, summer brings the hot sun and swimming, fall is the harvest and a touch of cold, and winter… snow! But when the temperature starts to drop, you might find another visitor besides Santa Claus in your house.

Where Did They Come From?

The brown marmorated stink bug, Halyomorpha halys (hereafter abbreviated BMSB), is an invasive species of stink bug native to China, Korea and Japan. It’s thought that BMSB first came to the United States in shipping containers arriving from Asia. The bugs were first identified in Allentown, PA in 2001, although they probably arrived here several years earlier.

Where Are They Going?

Since becoming established in Pennsylvania, the bug has spread throughout the Mid-Atlantic states as far south as Virginia. It’s also been spotted in several southern and midwestern states, and has become established on the west coast in Oregon. It’s still on the move! Since they are strong fliers, BMSBs may fly to a new habitat, but many hitch a ride in shipping containers or on cars.

How Stink Bugs Bug People

In autumn, the adult stink bugs aggregate on and inside houses, sheds and other structures looking for a warm place to spend the winter. Many people find this to be a nuisance because the BMSB gives off a characteristic odor when they’re crushed or disturbed. However, this bug might pose a threat to your plants, too. BMSB has been reported on 73 different plant species in Pennsylvania alone, including butterfly bush, lilac, buckthorn, tomato, and grapes. Feeding on most ornamentals is probably innocuous, but various kinds of fruit crops can also be damaged by BMSB feeding.

What Can You Do?

So how can you protect your homes and gardens? Caulking or physically sealing cracks around doors, windows and attic vents are the most effective methods that help to prevent them from entering, and eliminating weeds around your house will decrease temporary harborages. BMSB is a small insect, so it’s important to be diligent about sealing every opening or they still might find ways to squeeze in. You can also hire a professional pesticide applicator to spray insecticides around the outside of your home during the fall months when the stink bugs are looking for places to spend the winter.

Currently, there are no federal quarantines in place to prevent the spread of BMSB. Since the BMSB hasn’t become a major agricultural pest yet (although it’s believed that it could, based on its known host plant range), there are no established control methods for eliminating them from your garden. Picking them off your plants or catching them on sticky cards are two possible ideas. Pheromone traps for this insect are under development but are not yet available commercially. Most stink bugs are attacked by a variety of natural enemies, especially insect predators and parasitoids. Research has shown that native North American beneficial insects don’t show much interest in BMSB, however, and there are no commercially available beneficial insects that effectively attack BMSB. USDA entomologists are studying the feasibility of introducing effective BMSB natural enemies from Asia that are safe and specific to the stink bug and which would offer some long-term relief.

I know a lot of the commenters have already tried sealing up their homes to little effect. Many are desperate enough to try any kind of poison to get rid of these pests. So, on behalf of stink bug victims everywhere, I decided to ask a few more questions:

Do you know much about the pesticides that a “professional pesticide applicator” would use? Could you elaborate on why it should not be a DIY job to spray these chemicals?
AK: A pesticide applicator would likely spray an insecticide from the pyrethroid class. Examples of pyrethroids include deltamethrin, lambda-cyhalothrin, and cyfluthrin.

This is not a do-it-yourself job! There are laws associated with pesticide application. For example, it is illegal to apply pesticides contrary to what the instructions on the label say. Further, it’s illegal if you allow your pesticide to drift onto things for which it’s not intended.

Even more important, pyrethroids are neurotoxins, and improper spraying can be very hazardous to your health. For example, if your skin comes into contact with deltamethrin, it can lead to redness, and facial paraesthesia can result if it comes into contact with your mouth or eyes. It’s best to let a trained professional handle these chemicals.

The website from which the commenters are buying pesticides provides this article on the stink bugs. Would you say it is accurate?

AK: I’d say it’s exaggerating a few facts. This bold statement from the site, Don’t be misled into thinking any stink bug is a good bug bothers me, because the spined soldier bug (Podisus maculiventrus) is a good guy! The spined soldier bug is NOT destructive and, in fact, eats a number of pest caterpillars in gardens and commercial crops.

Also, Try not to handle them and be careful if you do – not only will they release that nasty smell but many species are able to inflict a nasty bite! was a bit funny, since I’ve been working with stink bugs for 4 years and have never been bitten. Stink bugs don’t even have mandibles; they use a long “beak” (a tube) to pierce through the skin of fruits, veggies, and crop plants and suck out their food.

And, Stink bugs leave strong odors which linger for 6 months or more, makes little sense to me. I’ve had hundreds of collected stink bugs from wheat in a Ford Explorer, and their stink is gone from the car in 2-3 days.

It’s important to remember that one purpose of that webpage is to sell a product.

KH: Also, the website mistakenly implies that most of the stink bug species are capable of acting as pests in gardens/orchards. This is not the case at all. Only a handful of stink bug species are ever pests. Most species are completely innocuous as far as human interests are concerned. One additional error of fact in the ‘bugspray’ site – BMSB will NEVER EVER reproduce inside a home or structure. This occurs only on the host trees or shrubs, and only during the summer months. Bugs in the house during fall and winter are just hanging out, waiting for spring and the opportunity to return to the outdoors. You will only see adult BMSB entering your home, never the immature stages.

What do you know about cypermethrin, baygon, and deltamethrin, the three pesticides recommended by the aforementioned site?

AK: I mentioned deltamethrin above. Cypermethrin is used in household products to control ants and cockroaches. Baygon is another name for a number of pyrethroids used together.

Do light traps actually do much?

AK: Light traps aren’t a terrible idea, but I’m not sure how effective they would be. On the farm, we have a blacklight trap which we use to monitor for stink bugs. Based on the number of stink bugs caught, we estimate how many bugs might be in nearby fields. However, this is NOT for BMSB, and it doesn’t control large populations at all.

KH: When light traps (or their lethal cousins the bug zappers) are used indoors or in enclosed patios, they can be very effective at eliminating the insects in the immediate area. However, when they are outdoors and open to being seen from a distance, it’s important to remember that THEY ARE VERY ATTRACTIVE and even though they may trap or kill large numbers, they are attracting a larger number of stink bugs from further away to your home or yard than would have arrived without the traps being there!

For More Information

Compiled Anecdotal Wisdom from Commenters on the First Stink Bug Post
From Penn State University: Brown Marmorated Stink Bug Entomological Notes (pdf)
From Ohio State University: Brown Marmorated Stink Bug Fact Sheet (pdf)
From Rutgers University, New Jersey: Brown Marmorated Stinkbug – A Non-native Insect in New Jersey (pdf)
From The University of Florida: Featured Creatures: Brown Marmorated Stink Bug
NEW! Stop Stink Bugs – a site devoted to the cause.

Amanda L. Koppel, Dept. of Entomology, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA
Dr. Kim Hoelmer, USDA-ARS Beneficial Insect Introductory Research Lab, Newark, DE

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

Optimism overrules pessimism because every spring is an opportunity to start again.

~Laurie Lisle in Four Tenths of an Acre: Reflections on a Gardening Life

262 Comments… add one

Terri Kaduck October 23, 2014, 2:52 am

The best way I have found to get these buggers is not pesticides. I can use those because I have 2 kitties and a dog. I use fly strips. The pull down kind and now they make a round one too. It can be hung up or it has endcaps with flat spots on it so it can be set ontop of something. I put them on top of my living room tv because that is where they congragate most at. When the strip is full I replace it. No smell and no touching them.

Don September 24, 2013, 4:57 pm

I’ve said it before…try Demon WP..buy it online, mix it in a small sprayer and spray it around all openings and places stink bugs go. It will kill them. It has a long residual and works for weeks after it has dried. Once they walk through those areas they will die.

Debbie September 24, 2013, 2:09 pm

I have also tried several sprays and home remedies but then I tried Spray Elmers glue. Amazing. Glues their wings and stink sprayer and they are stuck and eventually die. Of course the clean up will be rough, thank goodness for a pressure washer. Also, a jar with soapy water works well, just place the jar under the bug and they do their little flip right into the jar.

The odd thing is that live ones are attracted to the dead ones and the next day you can get even more of them.

Sounds horrid but I was desperate. The cool night and warm days here is casusing havoc with stink bugs. They hide at night and come out during the day to get warm in the sun.

annjoni September 22, 2013, 2:41 pm

These bugs are more than just a simple pest. The chemical compound that makes up their “stink” is inclusive of the chemical compound of cyanide. Just look up “stink bug, cyanide” in a search and you will see .

So, yes. If you have a reaction to coming in contact with one or simply the smell of them, it is for real. Cyanide is cyanide.

I had one contact my skin on my face and it blistered and peeled off in a week. Chemical burn.

These little guys are NOT fun.

lisa September 21, 2013, 4:26 pm

I have infestation of stink bugs they keep biting my daughter dont know what to do? Help.

Stephanie November 15, 2012, 6:10 pm

Started seeing these bugs about 4wks. ago in my home. It was just one or two until today there were 6 on the inside of our family room window. My medically fragile daughter sarted having periods of shortness of breath around 4wks ago. Was wondering in there is a connection here because all tests are normal on her. Articles refer to allergic reactions to this bug but arent real specific about what type of allergic reaction. She already has an allergy to latex and what shes experiencing is similar to an asthmatic type reaction. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Christy September 24, 2012, 11:02 pm

We are infested – hundreds of BMSBs hiding behind picture frames, in curtain loops, drawers, closets, etc. I think these bugs know how bad a winter in PA is going to be – in fall of 2009 thousands tried getting in our home, we had a horrible 2010 winter with lots of snow; the next year was a mild winter, no infestation, saw only a few; this year (2012 -2013) we are infested and it’s predicted to be a severe weather winter.

Do they spray acid? I had one in my bra, not knowing it was there, I put it on, felt it crawling (yuck!), reached in to remove bug and it sprayed. I now have an orange, painful spot on my breast. I touched it today and the top layer of skin peeled off and I know have a raw, VERY painful spot. It’s exactly like a first degree burn. What can I do for this? Will it scar, will it heal? If I didn’t know what caused this, I’d suspect a chemical burn. Lord deliver me from stink bug season!

Joyce October 8, 2011, 10:41 am

Here in Pennsylvania on our eleven woodland/wetland acres we saw SB for the first time in ’09. Last fall was a very bad infestation. This year it’s not too bad (yet).
Just purchased a stink bug trap this morning at my supermarket ($20). While checking out, the customer behind recommended Home Defense was better.
Reading the label now… it is a pheromone trap to be used indoors! I’m concerned. We are treating our cat with a pheromone diffuser for his neurological problem caused by a flea med. Husband is taking it back for a refund as I write.
Guess I’ll return to capturing carefully by hand in a wet tissue

bugrepeller September 24, 2011, 10:45 am

We have stink bugs real bad and I took a 1/2C of Borax and diluted it in a gallon of water and then added about a 1/3 bottle of 70% rubbing alcohol and sprayed the outside of my house. It killed hundreds of them. Then I took 4 Tablespoons of Vicks Vapo Steam and a gallon of warm water and 1/3C dish soap and sprayed that on my house and it kept the stink bugs from returning. So far that seems to be working. I had paid the ‘professional’ $200.00 to spray my house and it did kill some of the stink bugs, but they kept coming back. My less than $10.00 do it yourself solution seems to be working much better.

Phil September 15, 2011, 10:13 pm

My apologies if this has been discussed… I have my home professionally treated now every year and it has made a huge difference. I did notice that on my room along the ridge vent are a LOT of dead stink bugs that dies attempting to enter my house.

Now here’s what is new… Crows, BIG crows, are starting to hang out on my room and peck at my ridge vent. Have they developed a taste for this bug? It is loud enough when they are up there pecking that I can hear them inside the house. Has anyone else experienced this or something like it??

Phil September 15, 2011, 10:15 pm

Sorry. Stupid spell correction on my IPad. Needless to say, the crows are on my roof not my room! Lol

gardenismy life March 31, 2012, 8:43 pm

Thank the big guy (God) if crows are eating these destructors. My husband and I think only spiders are eating them. We have discovered that taking an olive jar and placing it in the freezer is the best method for capture and kill. Just place the frozen jar up to them and they commit suicide by jumping right in (indoor use). But they ate my corn in the garden last year and even DUST did not stop them. There has got to be SOMETHING the average citizen can use to kill these things in the garden.

Don July 26, 2011, 11:33 pm

Use prymerthyrin to kill stink bugs….I had hundreds of stinkers in my honey locust tree in front of my house. I sprayed premytherin through an inline attachment to my pressure washer and it was raining stink bugs. Prymytherin is found in many incecticides , but I have found that EIGHT , a product made by Bonide and available at Agway works best.) I also use a professional insectecide called “Demon WP” around the window screens and othe rentry points(you can buy it online) . It comes in powder and you mix it with water in a hand sprayer. It had has a long residual factor that kills the stink bugs when they walk through it; even after it drys. I spray it around the windows screens where they try to sneak in and usually find plenty of dead ones days and weeks later in the bottom of window sill.

Kenny Koellner June 10, 2011, 10:39 pm

I have been waging war on these little jerks since 2009. I have tried a number of things (rubbing alchohol, simple green, home defense and spectracide.) Alcohol works somewhat good, not as good as Home Defense, however I am tired of using such harsh chemicals around the house because of plants and animals as well as trying to preserve the life of the Praying mantis. You know its bad when a mantis wont even go after these creeps. I did find something that has worked extremely well and its natural and its pleasant smell will eliminate the odor on contact. Those who have not tried Melaleuca oil, should consider it!!! Its a bit harsh on the stink bug, it will blind them and then initiates a slow death for them. Plus they hate the smell of it. Works great on other bugs as well. OH WELL!!! I for one am tired of not being able to stay on my deck at night with a light on, without being attacked by a huge swarm of these clowns.

Emelie September 30, 2011, 10:06 pm

Kenny,

How did you use Melaleuca oil to kill stink bugs? I want to use it but not sure how to apply it?

Thanks!

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