Home Turf War: Stinkbugs Are Closing in on Bedbugs’ Territory

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David Wrobel/Visuals Unlimited/Corbis

Bedbugs are so five minutes ago. There’s a new intruder infesting the Middle Atlantic states: the stinkbug.

Seeking warmth for the winter, they’re crawling into homes, offices and hotels, and hitching rides in trucks, buses, even your handbag. Unlike the bedbug, the stinkbug, thankfully, doesn’t bite. To humans, they’re actually harmless; they don’t spread disease or destroy your property. (More on Time.com: Why You Need to Worry About NDM-1: Not a ‘Superbug,’ But Still a Threat)

On the other hand, they smell when you squish or antagonize them. Really bad, sort of like a skunk.

They are also doing irreparable damage to fruit and vegetable crops in Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and other states. The pests feast on all kinds of produce — from peaches and apples to soybeans and corn — leaving behind dry brown pock marks that make products unsellable. Even dairy farmers are concerned that stinkbugs will get into their cows’ feed, and stink up the milk supply.

Problem is, there’s no known natural predator of the brown marmorated stinkbug in the U.S. The ectoparasite is native to Asia, where, according to the New York Times: “a parasitic wasp helps control stinkbug populations by attacking their eggs. Unleashing those wasps here, however, is at least several years away because they would first need to be quarantined and studied.” (More on Time.com: Itchy Bites: the Least of the Bedbug Epidemic’s Threats)

People whose homes have been infested with stinkbugs say they have various methods of eradication — drowning the bugs in jars of soapy water, flushing them down the toilet, collecting them in plastic bags and vacuuming them up — according to a report in the Washington Post. Another solution is to lure the bugs into traps containing sexually enticing stinkbug pheromones.

There’s no easy antidote to what has been described as a “biblical” invasion this year. From the Post:

Because so little is known about the insect, researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and state universities in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia and New Hampshire (the bug popped up there for the first time this year) have formed the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug Working Group. Among the priorities: study the bug’s basic behavior and biology, identify natural ways to control it and develop public awareness.

Tracy Leskey, a USDA scientist and a leader of the group, made the first positive identification of a specimen in Maryland in 2003, at a gas station in Hagerstown. She tracks them from her research station in Kearneysville, W.Va. Outside Shepherdstown, where she lives, residents have reported having thousands massing on the sides of their homes. “I have never seen anything like this in my career,” said Leskey, 42.

For now, psychological distress may be the greatest threat the public can expect from stinkbugs. The best way to avoid the critters and their stench: seal up windows and doorways tight, and stock up on vacuum cleaner bags (you should toss them soon after sucking up the stinky bugs). Don’t use pesticides inside.

More on Time.com:

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