Science

Invasive stink bugs may be making life much more fragrant in North America due to climate change, study shows

Living in North America may soon mean dealing with a lot of smelly and aggressive neighbors. As the planet warms, the habitat of invasive stink bugs could expand significantly in the country’s northern regions, a recent study found.

Halomorpha Halis, Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, Stink Bug on Tomatoes
Halomorpha hulls, the brown marmorated stink bug, on tomatoes.

Halomorpha hallis, the brown marmalade stink bug, the stink bug on tomatoes. (Photo by: Edwin Remsberg / VW Pics via Getty Images) / Halomorpha helis, the brown marmorated stink bug, the stink bug on tomatoes. (Photo by: Edwin Remsberg / VW Pix via Getty Images)


Brown-bellied stink bugs have been known to terrorize crops and swarm homes during the winter months to escape the winter. And the tiny insects pack a huge and pungent odor—if you kill them, a scent that is reminiscent of cilantro to many and, for some skunks, will fill the air.

The insects have been found in 46 states, but are mostly populated along the East Coast from North Carolina to New York and along the West Coast. They are considered both an urban nuisance and agricultural pest in 15 states, but researchers found that by 2080 their habitat could expand to 70%, according to the study published in Pest Management Science.

It is expected that stink bug habitat will shift further north, particularly in areas of the Mid-Atlantic, near the Great Lakes and West Coast basins, including Sacramento and Idaho’s Treasure Valley. However, this expansion will depend on the conditions in each region, particularly with regard to rainfall, and the type of mitigation efforts undertaken.

The numbers come from three years of stink bug monitoring in 17 states, as well as analyzing several possible climate scenarios.

“Every system will change with climate change, so the fact that you can now grow garbanzo beans, lentils or wheat without these pests doesn’t mean you won’t in a few years,” said study lead author and Washington State University entomologist Javier Gutierrez Ilan said. “There are mitigating things we can do, but it’s wise to be prepared for change.”

The researchers noted that humans can also influence population numbers, as the bugs prefer hitchhiking on vehicles and agricultural equipment, and urban areas serve as good wintering sites and provide many ornamental plants for the insects to feast upon. We do. Nevertheless, climate was found to have a greater effect on stink bug abundance.

“While the distance to populated areas seems to be important for BMSB [brown marmorated stink bug] Incidence, climate factors, particularly those related to water availability, were the most important drivers of BMSB abundance,” the study states.

Insects can be extremely harmful to agriculture, as they are known to eat about 170 different plants and crops, including apples, peaches, figs, beans, corn and soybeans. According to Pennsylvania State University, when their defensive scent is deployed, they can cause an allergic reaction in humans and can cause dermatitis when crushed against exposed skin.

“Most growers learn from their parents or a previous generation, but the information they had is probably not as useful now because the climate is changing, so they need these types of tools,” Gutierrez Ilan said.

The brown marmorated stink bug was unintentionally brought to the Americas from Asia about 20 years ago and has spread rapidly since then. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, eliminating them in agriculture can be challenging because few effective insecticides are known to work against them. However, there are some viable solutions at home.

Now that it is autumn, people can expect to see them crawling near doors, windows and other entry points into their homes. The EPA warns that once they find a way, “they can enter tens of thousands of structures.” And once they do, they won’t reproduce, but they’ll make themselves into homes—under beds, in bookcases, and in attics.

To avoid an infection, the agency recommends that people in affected areas clean their windows, weather strip entries, clear away debris, screen chimneys and secure crawlspaces. To avoid their odors in your home, it’s best to vacuum them, although the vacuum itself will temporarily emit their odor.

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