Stink Bugs in Your Christmas Tree?

The “dreaded” Brown Marmorated Stink bug has invaded Southwest Virginia.

“Is Tech doing any research on them?  Somebody has got to do something about these things before I go crazy!”  These are comments I hear when I get calls on the Brown Marmorated Stink bugs.  They may be down for the winter, but they are not out, as I am reminded every time we get a sunny day and one or two wake up and come on in for a little hospitality.  Do they just love Christmas, or is it the warmth of my tree lights that attract them?  Well I have good news – BUT we need your help.

A nationwide team of scientists is assembling to launch what may become one of the largest grant projects done in partnership with the USDA.  As you may already know,  the Brown Marmorated Stink bug is thought to have accidentally entered the US via a shipping port in Pennsylvania around 1998.  Like many other alien imports, it did not arrive with any natural enemies, so the population has exploded. This happened with some of our earlier imports, such as the Japanese Beetle and Gypsy Moth.  At first, the stink bugs did not attract much attention, but now we are discovering they are not just little household pests.  These bugs are posing a serious threat to our agricultural crops and home gardens as they spread from Pennsylvania across the Commonwealth.

Anecdotal stories abound about the stink bugs.  We think we know that after they finish feeding on our crops, such as apples, peaches, beans, tomatoes, peppers, okra, corn (and even some of our ornamental plants), they turn their attentions to finding winter harborage.  As fall approaches and the leaves begin to change, you will find them congregating on the sides of light colored homes.  If it is too hot, they will be on the cool side of the house.  As the temperatures drop, we begin to find more and more on the sunny South and West sides.  But wait, I’ve also had many reports about them being attracted to dark surfaces, as temperatures continue to decline.

Once inside, they may even seek out dark places.  I had lots of calls from people who were finding them hiding in the laundry basket, preferring the folds of the dark towels to the light!  I even had a call from someone who snatched up a dark towel and dried their face before noticing several bugs clinging to the towel.  They experienced a burning sensation to the face and a good blast of “stink” before they knew what had happened.  All this leads me to wonder; just what do we really know about these guys?  Clearly, we need facts.

We do know something about what they do in their native country, but that does not mean they will do the same here, with unfamiliar conditions.   We know that the efficacy of control measures has had variable results.  Timing, age of the insect, conditions, and dose of sprays all alter the results.  What about pheromone traps or light traps?  Will they work, or might they make it worse, calling all the insects in the neighborhood to our house?

So, here is where you can help.  We want to study the behavior of these insects.  What will they do when they wake up from their winter slumber?  What are their crop preferences?  Does it change throughout the year?  How can a farmer manage them vs. what might we do when they become a household pest?  To learn these things we need a supply of insects.  Since they do not breed during the winter, that means we have to go get them.  Were you bothered by large populations of stink bugs this fall?   If so, do you know where they are overwintering, and most importantly, could one gain easy access to a large number of them?

If you can answer yes to these questions, and can confirm the identity and that large numbers of them are still alive and accessible, then please contact me.  You may have to bring a few inside in a jar to warm up, to ensure they are still alive.  To identify them, make sure they have the banded antennae (

Of course, we cannot come to everyone’s home to collect, but we do need a resource list of folks who are willing to let us come and collect, and perhaps even willing to let us monitor the insect’s activity throughout the season.  We hope to start winter collections after the first of the year.  You may call and leave the particulars and contact information at the Master Gardener Help Desk at 776-7178, or call me at 772-7524 for the Roanoke and surrounding area sites.  Together, perhaps we can find viable solutions to the problem of the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug.            

-Barbara Leach, VA Cooperative Extension

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  1. I have so many stink bugs, even now in early January, I’m afraid to go to sleep! They congregate on sunny windows and surfaces, but they also like to hide inside towels, in laundry baskets, and behind my dryer. Having just read your article, I would like to know where and what to look for nests/eggs/colonies, or whatever they use to reproduce. Can a local exterminator get rid of them, or better yet, get rid of the source of new generations??? I’m really freaked out. Any help I can get OR give? Margaret Woodworth 540-953-0552

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