Who is that person vacuuming her porch ceiling, then dragging the vac into the front garden to reach the awning? Who is that lady prowling her yard, bucket of soapy water always at her side? It’s me, enemy of stink bugs.
If you haven’t been bothered by the prehistoric little shield bug, I am happy for you, and jealous. Many hours of my summer gardening time have been spent interacting with BMSB nymphs (“brown marmorated stink bug” babies). By interacting, I mean holding a small bucket of soapy water below the leaf or fruit where the baby bug perches. Nudging the leaf causes the bug to drop into the sudsy mixture.
In my front garden, nymphs appeared last summer on a butterfly bush. I cut the plant down. It grew back, and early this summer the bugs appeared again. Two years in a row were enough—goodbye to that shrub. The problem soon moved to a neighboring rhubarb patch. In Pennsylvania, females continue to lay new egg masses June to September, which explains why I have observed nymphs of varing sizes on the same rhubarb plant.
This year I’ve unwillingly shared my garden produce with BMSBs. Stink bugs don’t have mouths (they don’t bite or sting). They feed by penetrating leaves, stems, and fruits with a piercing/sucking kind of mouthpart. I’m upset, even despondent at times, about losing tomatoes, peppers, chard, and rhubarb. And I’m concerned for farms and farmers.
BMSBs are not picky eaters. I’ve read that they eat 90 to 600 different types of plants. Vulnerable Pennsylvania crops include peaches, apples, green beans, soybeans, and pears. This year stink bugs have infested fields of corn. Thirty-three states report BMSBs. Wine makers are concerned that just a few bugs in their grape harvest will taint the flavor of wine, making it worthless. Even cows are reported to refuse silage that contains stink bugs.
Brown marmorated stink bugs are native to Asia, where they damage crops and overwinter in buildings. They arrived in the U.S. in 1996, on a wood pallet in Allentown, PA. No known natural predators in this country keep the BMSB population in check. One thing is different in their native lands, though. There a predatory wasp lays its eggs on BMSB eggs which destroys them. Scientists are testing to determine if importing wasps is the answer to our problem, but that will take a few years. Predators in this country include birds, spiders, and praying mantises, but they are ineffective combatants, because they feed on a variety of things.
A four-year-old neighbor thinks the black spider-like baby stink bugs are cute. She does not like the idea of killing them. But I know they develop into flying nightmares, that after wiping out my garden, when the weather gets chilly they’ll flatten themselves and enter homes through even extremely narrow openings. That’s not my idea of cute. Yes, I am armed with my vacuum and my sudsy bucket, and I am on a mission.