Stinkbugs Invade Burke County

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If stinkbugs were a crop, Burke County would certainly have an abundant harvest this fall. They are everywhere, in all parts of the county in large numbers. The Extension office gets 5-10 calls each day about this new and pesky insect. We’ve had stinkbugs in Burke County for years and at times they have caused minor damage on some vegetable crops. But these stinkbugs aren’t your normal stinkbug. They are marmorated stinkbugs and originally came to the U.S. from Asia. The marmorated stinkbug was first seen in Pennsylvania in 2001 and has slowly worked its way to North Carolina since then, first showing up several years ago in small numbers. While they are similar in appearance to the stinkbugs we know, they can best be identified by a white, horizontal band on their antennae. Homeowners should also be aware that the immature stages of this pest can be bright red and look nothing like the adult.

The marmorated stinkbug is unique in its habit of congregating on houses and buildings during the transition from warm to cool weather in the fall. The insects are seeking warmth as they gather in large numbers before making their way into houses and garages where they crawl on walls and ceilings and litter window seals. They don’t damage the house or humans but are a nuisance, and if mashed, give off a foul odor. They can stain upholstery and carpets when mashed.

Why do we have so many of them? I get this question often and the answer is that unlike our other stinkbugs who are kept in control by natural predators such as birds, the marmorated stinkbug has no natural predators. Without these predators, numbers have increased dramatically. Additionally, due to our mild weather, as many as 6 generations can hatch in one year. That’s a lot of stinkbugs!

While they aren’t harmful to us, they can be quite damaging to vegetable and fruit crops in the area. Because the marmorated stinkbug is a relatively new insect, few pesticides are labeled for their control. A homeowner’s best defense is to make sure all cracks and crevises are well caulked and use door sweeps on all doors. Cap chimneys and make sure all crawl spaces are secure. Shake out mail and newspapers before carrying them in to the house. In fact, as I was writing this article, I had to stop and brush one off of my computer screen…now that’s bold!

Cold weather will eventually reduce the numbers that are in evidence around the house but be assured that they will be around in large numbers next year.