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Another October, Another Stink Bug Home Invasion

Another October, another year of stink bugs finding their way into your home and office, getting caught in overhead light fixtures, and generally being a nuisance.  WMRA's Jessie Knadler looked into the latest research in dealing with this pest.

Stink bugs are infamous for their smell - it's been likened to coriander, or even skunks - but here's what they sound like...

[SOUND OF FLYING STINK BUG]

You can't get away from them. And every fall, Virginians ask themselves what is up with these bugs? When are they going away?

I put the question to Chris Bergh, professor of entomology at Virginia Tech. He's been studying the brown marmorated stink bug intensely since a massive outbreak in 2010. The short answer? Stink bugs aren't going anywhere soon but their numbers are less than they were in 2010.

CHRIS BERGH:    We feel it's very likely that the cold winter we had last year, caused quite a lot of death of the overwintering population of adult brown marmorated stink bugs... rather unusually cold... remember the polar vortex?

Because they're such a nuisance and wreak havoc on all sorts of economically important crops including fruit trees and soy beans, stink bugs have become a major focus of entomological research.

BERGH:  Researchers in the United States have made what I would call tremendous, significant advances in our ability to monitor and manage this pest and we're continuing to work actively on the problem from many different angles.

For example, why do they really want inside your home or office?  When the weather cools each fall, the bugs look for wintering sites, which is why you find them plastered all over your windows and doors in October. They're literally trying to break into your house, slipping in through cracks and crevices. But here's the thing-it's unknown whether they're trying to get inside to get warm. Compelling new research conducted by one of Professor Bergh's graduate students, results due next year, indicates there might be something about the house itself that attracts stink bugs.

BERGH:  The color of the house, what the house is made of, where the house is located, and what's around the house are all important factors in determining to what extent the house will be invaded.

The other bit of exciting stink bug news is that a natural parasite of brown marmorated stink bug has finally been identified. It's an Asian wasp called Trissolcus japonicus. Entomologists aren't sure how it got here or when it arrived, but it's been detected in Virginia, D.C., Maryland and Washington state-all states with a sizable stink bug problem.   

BERGH:  This species lays its eggs in the eggs of brown marmorated stink bug and when it's eggs hatch the larvae feed on and kill the brown marmorated stink bug egg so it's an important biological control agent.

But scientists still don't know whether the wasp is doing its job in any kind of significant numbers.

BERGH:  What impact it's having? And that is going to be a key research question going forward.

He also points out that Americans are not alone in dealing with this pest. Stink bugs have been identified in Italy, Switerzland and New Zealand, and their devastation goes far beyond simply being a nuisance or impacting agriculture.  Professor Bergh relays an incident involving a large international shipping company transporting new vehicles from the United States to ports abroad.

BERGH:  The bugs are looking for overwintering sites have gone to these lots where the vehicles are parked and waiting to be loaded on to ships and they've got into the vehicles and they've been transported to the other side of the world.... And when they arrive at these ports the inspectors come on and they look at the vehicles and they say, 'Well, no, these are infested with brown marmorated stink bug. They can't come into the country.' So then what do you do as a company-with a shipload of cars that can't be offloaded? It's a big problem.

Forget insecticides-there aren't any in-home varieties labeled for use against this stinky bug.  Instead, Professor Bergh recommends an incredibly simple yet effective homemade trap developed by his colleagues at Virginia Tech.  It's comprised of an aluminum roasting pan filled with soapy water set under a desk lamp.

[BUZZING BUG]

BERGH:  The bugs are drawn to the lamp, fly into the detergent water solution and are killed.

And that is the sweetest stink bug sound of all.