The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

October 19, 2013

Raising a stink: As temperatures cool, battle against smelly bugs heats up

Kathy Mellott

— Stinkbugs, they crawl across television screens, up walls and hover around lights.

These ugly, foul-smelling flying insects are feeling the cooling temperatures in their outside summer home and are heading indoors in search of a cozy winter retreat.

They will seek winter shelter in homes, office buildings, garages or sheds, Penn State experts said.

While they may be a nuisance in this region, the number of pests here is nothing compared with what residents of southeastern Pennsylvania, including as far west as Adams and Dauphin counties, are dealing with, bug experts said.

“We collect hundreds if not thousands around a house,” said Greg Krawczyk of the Penn State Fruit Research and Extension Center. “The pressure is not as heavy where you are as it is in southern Pennsylvania.”

Krawczyk is based in Biglerville, Adams County, just up the street from the National Apple Museum.

The heavy stinkbug infestation to the east does not necessarily mean the insects will be moving in droves to this region in the spring, Krawczyk said. Their patterns are so erratic it’s hard to tell, he said.

“The whole thing with the stinkbug is that the distribution of the insect is very random,” Krawczyk said. “In some areas there may be a lot of damage. But then a neighbor may wonder what they are talking about. Stinkbugs are very mobile.”

The almost square-shaped critter that is turning up everywhere is the brown marmorated stinkbug.

Locally, pest-control experts in the Johnstown area said they are getting some calls from people nervous about the bugs moving indoors.

“But it’s not as bad as it was last year,” said one woman.

Stinkbugs are not native to the United States and were accidentally introduced in this country in 1998, experts said.

The first record of detection in the United States was in Allentown. The bugs’ origins can be traced to China, Korea, Japan and Taiwan, where it is a significant pest to agricultural crops, said Steve Jacobs, Penn State senior extension associate.

“As these things move, they’re moving in vehicles, trucks, trailers, cars,” Jacobs said.

The warm winter of 2012 provided good conditions for reproduction, possibly explaining why the infestation was so much greater in this region.

The 2013 winter was colder.

“A lot of it depends on how well they winter over,” Jacobs said. “It depends on their conditions for mating.”

Jacobs described them as about one-inch long with shades of brown on both upper and lower body surfaces. Anyone wanting a close look should see lighter bands on the antennae along with patches of coppery or bluish-metallic colored depressions on the head.

But Jacobs provides easier ways to identify stinkbugs.

“When they fly, they make a lot of noise,” he said. “When you kill them, they make a lot of stink.”

Depending on who you talk to, Jacobs said, some people think they smell like cilantro, a pungent-flavored culinary herb.

While stinkbugs are a pest to the homeowner, they can be downright destructive to home gardners and professional fruit growers.

A stinkbug infestation in a nectarine or peach orchard can wipe it out, Krawczyk said.

They have a pointed area on the mouth that they use to insert into fruit or garden vegetables and suck out the juice, he said.

Damage to apples also can be significant, but growers often are left with a crop they can sell for processed products such as juice or sauce.

But the price they get for the apples is often about 10 percent of what they can demand for table fruit, Krawczyk said.

“You can see the results (of stinkbug infestation) on the outside of the fruit,” he said. “But based on what we’re learning from Asia is that they don’t spread any disease and the fruit can still be used for juice or cider.”

Kathy Mellott covers agricultural and environmental issues for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at