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5 Ways to Get Rid of Stink Bugs

If we've learned anything from arrival of the brown marmorated stink bug, it's that this insect is resillient. Everyone seems to have their own anecdote about the stink bug's invicibility. (I trapped one in a glass jar and left it for a month. After a whole month without food or water, I checked on it...and it was still freakin' alive. So I flushed it.) Many pesticides don't affect their eggs, and they reproduce in such large numbers, it's tough to get 'em all when you attack. They're sneaky buggers, spending most of their time out-of-sight, only emerging when it starts to get cold or when they're hungry.

So what's anyone to do? Is there an effective way to get rid of these pests? Well, yes...and no. There are some highly effective steps you can take to de-stink-bug your home (and prevent them from coming in later). But it would seem the stink bug is here, in the U.S. to stay. Until science offers a solution, the best way to rid your home of stink bugs is by employing a multi-pronged approach. And it starts with an ounce of prevention.

1) Be Prepared & Attack Early

Gather an arsenal. Stink bugs are content to mate, eat and lay eggs outdoors while the weather's warm. Once the weather starts to cool, they'll start to look for a warmer habitat in which to enter a kind of hibernation called "diapause." That warmer habitat is usually your home, but by this point, they won't be reproducing (they don't do so indoors). Before it gets cool, it's best to get your stink-bug-fighting arsenal together. Most folks find themselves annoyed by stink bugs in September and October, when the pests are starting to move indoors. That's also when the shelves will be running low on stink bug insecticides and traps, so gather your weapons early.

stinkbug eggsimage via David R. Lance, USDA APHIS PPQ, available through invasive.org

Destroy the eggs. The best defense is a good offense. You may be able to get a head start on the stink bug population in your immediate area by destroying eggs and nests. Their eggs can be found clumped together on undersides of leaves and foliage (see image above). Look for small yellowish or white barrel-shaped clumps. Unfortunately, most of the insecticides that kill adult stink bugs will not work on the eggs, so you'll have to physically destroy the eggs. Personally, I've found that scraping the eggs into the bucket of diluted bleach water works well. Then again, you may not have much luck finding the eggs if the highest branches are infested or you don't live near the nested trees.

2) Seal it Up & Keep it Dark

Similarly to the way you (should) insulate and weather-proof your home for energy efficiency, mechanical exclusion (aka sealing up the cracks & entry-points) is essential in the fight against stink bugs. Make sure storm windows are closed, cracks around siding or doors are sealed off, look into chimneys, beneath wood surfaces, basement foundations and even drain pipes. Replace any worn weather stripping and consider installing screens over chimneys and vents. Ideally, you'll want to do all this before they've entered your home, but if you do spot them indoors, this could provide you with some clues as to how they've gotten inside. There are hundreds of caulk and silicone products available, and one of the most effective is the Dow Great Stuff Insulating Foam Sealant Big Gap Fillerinsulating foam . Spraying this product into cracks, the foam quickly expands to fill the void, bonding to wood, metal and most building materials. Simply put, this stuff will block the main entrance to the stink bug lobby.

expanding foamI shot this. Not the best example of application, but that's what it does.

Stink bugs are not only drawn to warmth, but also light. Pull your shades in the evening, leave off external lights, and try to keep light sources hid from the offending arthropods. Unless, of course, you're trying to lure them in...

3) Set Traps

A number of stink bug traps have hit the market in the past year. One of the most hyped traps available is manufactured by Sterling Rescue, a pest-control company based in Spokane, WA. Offering both indoor and outdoor versions, Rescue's traps are affordable and provide a non-toxic means of killing the bugs. The Rescue Reusable Stink Bug Trapstink bug trap uses either light or pheromone as an attractant (depending on the model you choose), and once trapped inside, the bug dies of dehydration. (The pheromone attractant is odor-free to humans.) Early reviews seem mixed, but promising. Another indoor trap option is manufactured by Biocare. Their trap also utilizes a pheromone attractant, and as of this writing, there are very few reviews of the product's efficacy.

Many people are finding success by making their own stink bug traps. There are plenty of homespun designs out there on the internets, but the one that seems most effective is a variation on the old fish trap, where a plastic bottle's top is inverted into the body. Julian Smith of New Jersey designs his stink bug traps using a two-liter soda bottle, and according to his local news station, the results are great. Of course, you still have to discard the deceased bugs, and if you're not careful, that can be a smelly procedure.

4) Suck 'Em Up

Before you go firing up your vacuum cleaner, remember, they're called stink bugs for a reason. Still, the best method for catching stray stink bugs is with suction. If you have an old, junker vacuum, opt for that before using your nice new one. Or even better, if you have a shop-vac (wet/dry), go for that. With many new wet vacs, you can actually put some soapy water (or throw in some diatomaceous earth) in the drum to drown the bugs. And of course, there's the Bugzooka bugzooka : a bellows-suction powered bug sucker requiring no electricity, with a telescoping tube for long reaches and a removable trap tube thingy...

bugzooka...

5) Unleash Hell (Insecticides)

Bifenthrin! Without a doubt, one of the most effective insecticides on the market is bifenthrin. This stuff is gnarly. It destroys the nervous system of insects, it's nearly insoluble in water making it persistently effective for anywhere between 7 days to 8 months, and you can only buy it in lower concentrations. Consider it the nuclear option. If you wish to keep beneficial bugs (bees, mantids, etc.) and spiders around, this is not a viable option, as it will kill every insect it contacts. Bifen XTS is available in a 25.1% concentration (makes 100 gallons).

Permethrin! Another, slightly-less-frightening-but-not-by-much chemical insecticide is called permethrin. While it has little toxic effect on most mammals, it is highly toxic to cats. Moreover, just like bifenthrin, this toxin kills indiscriminately, making it less-than-ideal if you wish to keep some beneficial spiders around. A 36.8% concentration is available that yields between 20-90 gallons depending upon how diluted your application.

Pyrethrum! (or Pyrethrin) Don't be mistaken. It's derived from mums, entirely organic, and breaks down quickly, but it still packs a hefty punch in the fight against stink bugs. For centuries, this chemical has been used as a highly effective insecticide. Though, it should be noted, even though this product is organic, derived from plants, it can still be harmful to humans and pets. A single pint of the stuff goes a long way - only 1 to 4 tablespoons per gallon is needed for efficacy. You may also benefit from planting several chrysanthemum varietieschrysanthemums around your home.

crysanthemumChrysanthemums...adored by old ladies, feared by insects

Diatomaceous Earth! It's debatable as to whether diatomaceous earth really works in combating stink bugs, but some folks have reported success. DE is a naturally occurring powder created from the fossilized remains of diatoms (a fancy word for hard-shelled algae). Here's how it works: when a bug wanders through diatomaceous earth, the particles absorb into the insect's exoskeleton. If exposed to enough, the insect will die as a result of dehydration as the particles pull lipids from the chitin-walls of the exoskeleton. Neato, huh? It's nearly harmless to humans and animals (some varieties come with inhalation hazards)...but to bugs, it's like walking through a pile of salt-crusted razor blades. A 10-lb. food grade bag of Diatomaceous Earthdiatomaceous earth is available for around $12.00.

Conclusions

Because of the stink bug's pertinacious nature, there is no one-shot-solution. I wish there was, folks, I really do. These bugs are persistent and unyielding, and so we must also be. Personally, to keep me motivated, I like to think of them as little alien invaders from a far-away, stinky planet, hell-bent on ruining our crops and annoying us into submission. Once we throw in the towel, Earth will be theirs for the taking -- a taking that will consist mostly of buzzing around incessantly and making baby stink bugs. In any case, I'm fighting back, and I hope you're with me. Welcome to Earth, stink bugs. Here's a nice bouquet of chrysanthemumschrysanthemums.

See the next article, "Homemade Solutions" »

Sources used in the research for this article:
Image: Art Cushman, USDA; Property of the Smithsonian Institution, Dept. of Entomology, Bugwood.org
Image of eggs: David R. Lance, USDA APHIS PPQ, available through invasive.org
Video: http://www.rescue.com/
Image of chrysanthemums: New International Encyclopedia
http://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/brown-marmorated-stink-bug
http://www.wusa9.com/news/local/story.aspx?storyid=136674
http://www.wpxi.com/news/27939762/detail.html
http://abcnews.go.com/Business/ConsumerNews/stink-bugs-invade-homes-insect-pest-present-33/story?id=13379499/
http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/diatomite/250497.pdf
http://www.stinkbug-info.org/index.php/management
http://www.reade.com/Products/Minerals_and_Ores/diatomaceous_earth.html/
http://agsci.psu.edu/magazine/articles/2011/winter-spring/stink-bug-primer

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At a glance

Ways to Combat Stink Bugs:

  • Be prepared - get your arsenal together.
  • Get an early start.
  • Seal up your home.
  • Keep your house dark after sunset.
  • Get (or make) some stink bug traps.
  • They're known as true bugs.
  • Use a bug vacuum.
  • Use some insecticides.