Stink bugs are now, unfortunately, common in many homes today. Many people can identify the most popular species, the brown marmorated stink bugs (BMSB) by sight these days. Getting rid of them isn’t always a pleasant experience due to the acrid smell associated with them, but just how the heck do they get in your house?
Stink bugs begin to enter homes during the late Fall to Winter seasons when the weather begins to get colder. They can get into rooms of your house through the small cracks and crevices that may be in your home. Luckily, stink bugs don’t genereally reproduce indoors.
The rest of the article will take a closer look at stink bugs and the science behind the smell associated with them, along with just how they get in your house! Watch out for some of the best tips to get rid of stink bugs without crushing them.
What Are Stink Bugs?
Stink bugs belong to a family of pests known as the pentatomidae. They come in a wide range of colors, but they can be distinguished by their shield-like shape. They are typically between 12 and 17 millimeters long in size. Over the past few decades, they have become a nuisance for many homeowners and farmers.
There are over 200 species of stink bugs in North America, but the brown marmorated stink bugs are by far the most common. Stink bugs have not always been native to North America. Their origins can be traced to China, Japan, Taiwan, and Korea. They were brought to the U.S accidentally in the mid-1990s, possibly in shipping containers.
How Did Stink Bugs Get in Your House?
Stink Bugs are drawn to warmth and light, especially during the winter. The search for warmth means they can be found huddled on the exterior walls of homes and buildings in the sunshine.
Actually, this is how most people see them for the first time.
Stink bugs generally enter homes through the cracks and crevices of peoples houses during the colder months when the warm weather is not longer too apparent.
In reality, they are attracted to the lights outside your home when it’s dark. Once they arrive, they quickly begin to look for cracks that lead into your home.
The flat and shield-like shape of stink bugs means that they only need the small crevices and cracks to get in. Holes in the window, nets and any other unprotected entry points of your home or house will be an easy way in for these little stinkers.
During the winter, they will hide inside your walls, attic, or crawl spaces. As spring arrives, the bugs become more active and start looking for ways to go back outside. It’s at this time that most people get to see the extent of an infestation.
Stink bugs, luckily, do not generally reproduce indoors due to their food and most of the necessities related to their survival being outdoors.
Will Stink Bugs Stink Up Your House?
When some insects feel threatened, they’ll sting or bite the invader in self-defense. Stink bugs thankfully don’t have this capacity!
To defend themselves, therefore, all juveniles and adults will produce a foul chemical to discourage insectivores from seeing them as edible.
The chemical is a combination of aldehydes, esters, and alkanes. The result is a sharp, pungent odor. The stink bug will release this cocktail anytime it feels endangered. So, a stink bug won’t become smelly unless it thinks that it can use the foul odor to get away from a predator.
The cocktail is stored in a special gland in the stink bug’s thorax. From here, the chemical is released onto a part of the exoskeleton known as the evapatorium. The make-up of this part of the bugs skeleton means that the chemical can be spread quickly into the air.
Are Stink Bugs OK To Have Around Your Home?
For humans, stink bugs are often nothing more than a nuisance that will look unsightly when they are clustered visibly on a wall or ceilings, for example.
Also, the unpleasant smell means that you’ll need some time and effort to clean up if they get smushed.
If you have indoor plants, however, stink bugs can destroy them.
They can damage gardens, fruit trees, and ornamental plants. There’s very little data on this front, but some estimates suggest that apple growers alone lost around $37 million to stink bug damage in 2010.
So, if you have a garden or indoor plants, allowing a stink bug infestation to run unchecked can be a problem for your plants!
Why You Shouldn’t Squish Stink Bugs in Your House
By now, you know that squishing stink bugs in your house will lead to them releasing the smelly chemicals they are known for. The smell can last very long in a room, depending on ventilation and the number of bugs you crushed.
Some people also say you should avoid crushing stink bugs because it will only attract more stink bugs, but according to the National Pesticide Information Center, there is no proof of this.
What Are the Alternatives to Crushing Stink Bugs?
If you find a few stink bugs in your home, wear rubber gloves like these protective rubber gloves from Squish Store and pick them up gently.
If you don’t have gloves, you can pick them with tissue paper and flush them down the toilet quickly. They can’t bite or sting you, but you need to avoid the risk of skin contact with the secretions.
If you are facing a larger invasion, on the other hand, you can use a vacuum cleaner to suck them up. However, you need to empty the bag outdoors, but ideally, you should get rid of it completely.
This method is enough to make some of the stink bugs to feel threatened, so your vacuum cleaner may have that stinking smell for a while. There is also the risk of bugs that didn’t get emptied out crawling back into your house in a few hours.
Picking up the bugs may also trigger the release of the stinking smell, but if the numbers are small, the smell should dissipate quickly.
However, the smell released from the use of any of these techniques will always be milder compared to the result of crushing the bugs.
You may be thinking of using insecticides in the fight against stink bugs, but experts don’t encourage it.
Other Top Ways to Get Rid of Stink Bugs In or Near Your Home
Vacuuming or picking up the stink bugs isn’t practical for everyone. Some of the other methods you can consider are listed below.
Use Insect Glue Traps
Using insect glue traps like Trapper in your home or office with the stink bug problem will help you catch most of the bugs.
As an added bonus, you’ll catch other pests in the property, so it’s an excellent way to catch all the bugs that roam around your house behind your back.
Insect glue traps are affordable, so you can get a few of them and stick them in corners and crevices of your home where stink bugs are likely to congregate. As they get trapped, dispose of the used traps efficiently.
If youre using a trap like the Trapper insect trap, you’re covered since they use a non-toxic glue. If you don’t use that version, make sure you get a similar type of glue.
Use Bug Zappers
Did I mention that stink bugs can fly?
This option is best for anyone looking for a more streamlined approach to dealing with insects like stink bugs. Bug zappers are very efficient at getting rid of different pests, and in many cases, you only need one in a room or preferably on the porch of your home.
These devices are connected to a power source, and they then give off a low-grade electrical current on charged metal grids, which gets rid of the insects. It is a good option if you don’t want any chemical-related solution to your stink bug infestation. The electrical grids are harmless to pets and children as they are adequately covered by a mesh.
Starting your seach with something like the Flowtron BK-15D should allow you to see some results for these flying / hitchhiking critters coming into your home.
Garden Bug Traps
As you’ve seen above, stink bugs can eat through your plants. If you have a small garden or houseplants, you may find it difficult to stop an infestation with some of the other methods already discussed. Once the bugs settle in on the plants, they’ll be harder to get rid of. This also means your plants will die soon.
If you are in this position, you should consider getting traps like the Faicuk 20-Pack, the Kensizer 20-Pack, or any others designed to capture cucumber or Japanese beetles. Used in combination with a zapper, you can quickly solve the stink bug infestation.
The DIY Trap for Stink Bugs
Researchers at Virginia Tech created a simple stink bug trap that can work even better than some of the other approaches you can possibly use. It works great because it gets rid of the bugs quietly, and also reduces the chances of the smell getting released to zero. To create the trap, you’ll need the following:
- Warm water
- Desk lamp
- A silver pan
- Some dishwashing soap
The stink bugs are drawn to light, so the silver pan will ensure that the light from the lamp is adequately reflected. You can leave the rest of the lights off in that room of your house during this.
When the insects fly or crawl to the light, they’ll get caught in the soapy water. You can replace the water every night until you no longer find stink bugs in the morning.
What Do Stink Bugs Smell Like?
The stink bug smell has been described in various ways by different people. Some say it is close to inhaling skunk odor or the smell of rotten cilantro, while others say it smells like burnt tires.
Others have described the smell as dusty, earthy, oily, and woody. HONESTLY, do any of those sound appealing? Maybe the woody scent I guess?
So, in reality, the smell will vary from one person to another, and it will also be dependent on the species involved. There’s, however, a consensus on the fact that the smell is offensive.
The smell of course will be stronger in your home if they aren’t taken care of properly due to the confined area.
Stink Bug Scent Science and Why They Smell
First off — we write a bit more about this topic in another blog post here.
Insects are naturally wired to exhibit a range of defense strategies against their primary predators. One of such strategies is known as the chemical defense strategy. Insects can deploy a range of chemicals, including poisons, burning and foul-smelling liquids, and gases.
Their chemical defense systems can be passive or active. In passive defense, the insect doesn’t have to do anything, as its tissues are filled with toxic substances and will cause serious discomfort for predators.
This isn’t very protective for such insects as some predators that have not yet learned to stay away from that species will still try to eat them. Depending on the make-up of the insect, it could still get fatally harmed even if the insectivorous animal doesn’t get its meal.
With active chemical defense, on the other hand, the insect has behavioral mechanisms that allow it to produce and store foul-smelling substances. These chemicals are stored in special glands or in the hemolymph and diverticula and are only released when the insect is threatened.
The chemicals can work in two ways. First, they can be sprayed into the air as a distraction, which will confuse the predator. In this case, the color of the released chemical will be in contrast to the color of the insect.
Secondly, the smell and the taste of the chemical can ensure the predator doesn’t come close enough (as is the case with the stink bugs), or that it releases the insect even after it has captured it.
These defensive chemical compounds are known as allomones, and there are several hundred of them in existence. The allomones may already exist in the insect from day birth, while in some cases, it is acquired from the food source.
If you smush a stink bug inside, you’ll be releasing all of these lovely compounds and have their aroma fill your home – which you probably don’t want inside your house.
How Do Stink Bugs Move From Place to Place and End Up In Your Home?
Stink bugs primarily move around by flying. Their wings are folded neatly under their exoskeleton. They are exposed when the bug is in flight. Due to the bulky design of their wings, there’s a popping or buzzing noise when stink bugs lift off.
This sound is irritating, and since stink bugs fly in groups, it is not uncommon to hear the large droning once in a while in areas with heavy infestation. Another way to identify stink bugs in flight is to watch out for the discombobulated flying pattern devoid of any coordination. You may think they are confused, or just playing around instead of genuinely trying to get somewhere.
There are is research on the flight patterns, aimed at gaining a better understanding of why stink bugs fly around like this.
However, this is not the only way stink bugs move around. In many cases, they will only fly a short distance and then perch on a moving target. This means jumping on cars, bicycles, tractors, animals, or humans.
They don’t know where the journey will end, but they are willing to take the risk that it will lead to somewhere better, especially when they are trying to escape colder weather. In some cases, they make the move for no reason at all. This explains how they were able to migrate from Asia to North America.
When in an environment they are comfortable in, stink bugs are likelier to crawl from one point to the other instead of flying around.
Basically, if they’re near your house at all after going through all of this traveling, then this is why you should keep an eye on the walls and floors. Especially if you live in an area where stink bugs are common or if you’ve had an infestation in the past.
Stink bugs don’t smell all the time. As long as they don’t feel threatened or get crushed, they almost certainly won’t release the foul smell that’s been associated with them. If you have a stink bug problem, you can use any of the methods discussed above to solve it without crushing a bulk of them.
If the infestation is too deep, however, it may be best to call in some professionals. They’ll know the quickest way to solve the problem without exposing your family to the famous stink bug smell.
Cranshaw, W., & Redak, R. (2013). Bugs Rule!: An Introduction to the World of Insects. Princeton University Press.
Waterhouse, D. F., Forss, D. A., & Hackman, R. H. (1961). Characteristic odour components of the scent of stink bugs. Journal of Insect Physiology, 6(2), 113-121.