12 Facts About the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug

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iStock.com/claudiodivizia

There are about 5000 species of stink bugs, shield-shaped insects that belong to the family Pentatomidae. One of the most notorious stink bugs is the brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys Stål), a.k.a. BMSB, which The New Yorker called “the most destructive, the most annoying, and possibly the ugliest” of all the stink bugs, an invasive species that’s taking North America by storm … and not in a good way. Here’s what you should know.

1. IT MADE ITS WESTERN HEMISPHERE DEBUT IN PENNSYLVANIA.

A stink bug
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Native to East Asia, the first BMSB specimens in the U.S. were collected in Allentown, Pennsylvania in 1998, but the bugs likely arrived a few years prior to that. (They may have come to the states in a shipping container, but no one’s sure.) Since then, they’ve spread to 43 states and will probably be continent-wide soon.

“It’s an incredible hitchhiker,” Dr. Tracy Leskey, an entomologist with the Agriculture Department’s Appalachian Fruit Research Laboratory, told The New York Times of the BMSB. Less than 10 years after it was identified in the States, it was in Switzerland and other parts of Europe, too.

2. IT TOOK YEARS TO IDENTIFY IT.

A magnifying glass on a yellow background.
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When the bugs were delivered to Karen Bernhard, an entomologist at Pennsylvania State University’s Extension Service, she had no idea what they were—and neither did anyone else. (Many assumed it was the native Euschistus servus.) It wasn’t until 2001, when Bernhard sent specimens to Richard Hoebeke, an entomologist specializing in invasive species who was then working at Cornell, that they were identified as brown marmorated stink bugs.

3. IT’S NOT CUTE.

Brown marmorated stink bug eggs hatching on a leaf.
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After they hatch, the black-and-red nymphs go through five molts, growing into mottled, dull-brown bugs—up to .66 inches long—with white banded antennae and legs, alternating dark and light bands on the abdomen, and smooth, rounded shoulders. All of these features distinguish them from lookalikes like the brown, rough, and one-spotted stink bugs. BMSBs can live for up to eight months.

4. THEIR SPRAY HAS SOMETHING IN COMMON WITH CILANTRO.

A bunch of cilantro tied together with a string
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Skunk. Old socks. Coriander. These are just some of the things the stink of the brown marmorated stink bug has been compared to. The two main chemicals responsible for the BMSB’s stinky spray are trans-2-octenal and trans-2-decenal. The latter is what gives cilantro its smell.

The chemicals in the spray might have a purpose besides scaring away predators: According to a 2016 study, they “inhibit the growth of bacteria”; the results of the study “suggest that brown marmorated stink bug aldehydes are indeed antibacterial agents and serve a multifunctional role for this insect.”

5. THEY EAT YOUR APPLES …

Brown marmorated stink bug feeding on an apple
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Brown marmorated stink bugs chow down on more than 100 types of crops. According to StopBMSB.org, apples, Asian pears, green beans, sweet corn, peaches, tomatoes, peppers, and Swiss chard are among the crops BMSBs pose the most risk to. Apricots, blueberries, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, and turnips are also on the menu (though they’re less at risk).

To feed, the bugs pierce the skin of the plants with their mouthparts and drink the fluids, which in fruits like apples “results in a characteristic distortion referred to as ‘cat facing,’ that renders the fruit unmarketable as a fresh product,” according to a Penn State Extension article on the bugs. In 2010, mid-Atlantic farmers estimated that BMSBs caused $37 million in damage to apple crops alone. Some farmers of apples and other crops reported total losses that year.  

6. … AND COULD INVADE YOUR HOME BY THE THOUSANDS.

A stink bug on a model of white house
iStock.com/ibunt

Come winter, BMSBs are looking for a warm place to shack up so they can enter diapause, a hibernation-like state that lasts until spring (a.k.a. mating season). Outdoors, they’ll overwinter in dead trees—but often, they find their way into peoples' homes through open windows and doorways, in the gaps around window air conditioning units, down chimneys, and basically any crack they can find.

According to The New Yorker, “Studies have shown that, despite their relative heft, stink bugs can crawl through any crevice larger than 7 millimeters, which means that, no matter how much caulk and weather-stripping and patience you possess, it is virtually impossible to stink bug-proof a home.” But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try; experts recommend placing screens over windows and vents and making liberal use of caulk to patch cracks.

Once a stink bug has found a warm spot it likes, it will release an aggregation pheromone (which can linger for up to a year) that draws other BMSBs to the same area, where they’ll gather in sometimes staggering numbers: One study found more than 26,000 of them living in a Maryland home.

The good news is, beyond being a smelly nuisance, they won’t mate in your home or cause structural damage (though they might clog chimneys ... or your pipes).

7. ONCE INSIDE, THEY’RE HARD TO GET RID OF.

A stink bug on a piece of wood.
iStock.com/drnadig

Some suggested stink bug removal approaches include knocking the bugs into soapy water, placing fly traps or double-sided tape in entryways, and spraying various concoctions (like garlic water) around your house. Vacuuming them up is also an option, though as the Penn State Extension article notes, “the vacuum may acquire the smell of stink bugs for a period of time,” so it might be best to avoid that tactic if your vacuum doesn’t have a bag you can easily toss.

A study showed that traps baited with the aggregation pheromone are only effective half of the year. And though foggers will kill stink bugs around your house, “it will not prevent more of the insects from emerging shortly after the room is aerated” and therefore “is not considered a good solution to long-term management of the problem.” Even expensive professional extermination efforts can be for naught.

Research by Virginia Tech has suggested that the most effective method of removal is to line a roasting pan with foil, fill it with soapy water, and place it in a dark room with a light above it to attract the bugs. According to a press release, this method—which was tested in 16 homes over a period of two years—“eliminated 14 times more stink bugs than store-bought traps that cost up to $50.”

8. THEY’RE PRETTY GREAT FLIERS.

In the home, stink bugs are lethargic, buzzing around clumsily thanks to diapause. But in the wild, they’re good fliers: Research has shown that, in flight mill tests, the bugs can fly 1.2 miles in a 24-hour period, and in field observations, they fly in a straight line at 6.7 mph. You can see one flying in slow motion here.

9. THEY’RE GENERALLY NOT HARMFUL.

A puppy with a leash in its mouth.
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BMSBs don’t sting or bite—their main defensive mechanism is their stinky spray. But some people can have allergic reactions, including rhinitis, conjunctivitis, or dermatitis, to the spray. The bugs aren’t toxic, so they won’t hurt your pets—though the chemicals in their spray might make your pets vomit or drool.

10. THEY MIGHT BE MESSING WITH YOUR RED WINE.

Pouring red wine into a glass.
iStock.com/debyaho

Not only do these pests feed on grapes, but they can end up in the mix as grapes are turned into wine, where the bugs give off stress compounds that affect the quality of the vino. Researchers at Oregon State University placed live and dead stink bugs on wine grapes and measured the stress compounds the insects released as they and the grapes were squeezed during the winemaking process. According to a press release, “They found that pressing was a key step in the release of two of the most common stress compounds—tridecane, which is odorless, and (E)-2-decenal, which produces an undesirable musty-like, coriander or cilantro aroma.” Red wine was more affected than white, maybe because the grapes are pressed at different points in the production process. The researchers found that more than three stink bugs per grape cluster resulted in contaminated wine.

11. THEY LEAVE TRACES OF THEIR PRESENCE ON PLANTS.

Brown marmorated stink bug on a plant.
iStock.com/ibunt

Scientists at Rutgers University recently discovered that they could detect the eDNA (or environmental DNA—things like skin flakes, scales, exoskeletons, or fecal matter) of brown marmorated stink bugs in the water farmers used to wash their produce before the crops go to market. They visited two farms—one in New Jersey with a known stink bug infestation and another that was just outside the bugs’ range in New Hampshire—where they both tested water and set traps for the bugs. As expected, they found stink bug DNA at the Jersey farm … and they found it at the New Hampshire farm, too. There, on the last day of testing, an immature stink bug ended up in a trap—visual confirmation of what their data was telling them. They hope that farmers can use the test to detect stink bugs before there’s a full-fledged infestation.

12. ONE OF ITS NATURAL PREDATORS IS A PARASITIC WASP THAT JUST MADE ITS WAY TO THE STATES.

A samurai wasp lays an egg in a brown marmorated stink bug egg
Oregon State University, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

In the U.S. the BMSB has few predators—so when scientists were looking for a way to combat the pests, they went to Asia. There, the stink bugs are kept in check by samurai wasps (Trissolcus japonicus), a tiny, stingerless parasite that lays its eggs in the stink bugs’ eggs, where its larvae eat the contents before emerging as wasps to continue the cycle. Sixty to 90 percent of BMSB eggs in Asia are parasitized by the wasps.

Scientists brought some of the wasps back and began testing to see if they would be a good candidate for release in the states. But before they could release any, the wasps showed up on their own, in Maryland in 2014. (Genetic testing showed that they weren’t escaped wasps that the scientists had been studying.) According to Science, “Although in laboratory tests it has parasitized some eggs laid by native species, [the wasp] has shown a strong preference for brown marmorated stink bug eggs.” Still, scientists are proceeding with caution: Though they can release the wasps in states where they’ve already been found, there are rules and regulations to follow and permissions to get before they can be released anywhere new.

Aspiring Eagle Scout Is Turning Old Fire Hoses Into Hammocks for Big Cats

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iStock.com/tane-mahuta

Boy Scouts have to demonstrate skills in multiple areas to graduate to the rank of Eagle Scout. On his quest to reach the top rank in scouting, eighth-grader Payton Crawford is doing something that's unusual for the organization: Knitting hammocks for senior big cats out of old fire hoses, CBS Denver reports.

For his Eagle Scout project, the 11-year-old boy from Colorado wanted to help the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colorado. The nonprofit rescues large carnivores from abusive situations and gives them a new home in a 10,000-acre wildlife refuge. There are more than 500 animals living at the site.

When they're not roaming the sanctuary, older big cats like lions, tigers, and leopards will be able to lounge on Crawford's supportive hammocks. He gathered old hoses from fire departments, cut them into the desired lengths, and wove them into hammocks big enough to accommodate a variety of animals. He can make one himself in about two hours, but he needs help carrying the final product.

“It’s just something different that I wanted to try out,” he told CBS. “Give them a better life because they don’t have the luxury we do.”

You can see how Crawford put them together in the video below.

[h/t CBS Denver]

20 Black-and-White Facts About Penguins

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iStock/fieldwork

Who is a penguin's favorite family member? Aunt Arctica! 

We kid! But seven of the 17 species of penguins can be found on the southernmost continent. Here are 20 more fun facts about these adorable tuxedoed birds. 

1. All 17 species of penguins are found exclusively in the Southern Hemisphere.

A group of penguins on an iceberg.
iStock/axily

2. Emperor Penguins are the tallest species, standing nearly 4 feet tall. The smallest is the Little Blue Penguin, which is only about 16 inches.

Three emperor penguins
iStock/Fabiano_Teixeira

3. The fastest species is the Gentoo Penguin, which can reach swimming speeds up to 22 mph.

A gentoo penguin swimming underwater
iStock/chameleonseye

4. A penguin's striking coloring is a matter of camouflage; from above, its black back blends into the murky depths of the ocean. From below, its white belly is hidden against the bright surface.

Penguins swimming in the ocean
iStock/USO

5. Fossils place the earliest penguin relative at some 60 million years ago, meaning an ancestor of the birds we see today survived the mass extinction of the dinosaurs.

Emperor penguins with chicks
iStock/vladsilver

6. Penguins ingest a lot of seawater while hunting for fish, but a special gland behind their eyes—the supraorbital gland—filters out the saltwater from their blood stream. Penguins excrete it through their beaks, or by sneezing.

Penguin swimming in the ocean
iStock/Musat

7. Unlike most birds—which lose and replace a few feathers at a time—penguins molt all at once, spending two or three weeks land-bound as they undergo what is called the catastrophic molt.

Gentoo penguin chick molting
iStock/ChristianWilkinson

8. All but two species of penguins breed in large colonies of up to one thousand birds.

A colony of king penguins
iStock/DurkTalsma

9. It varies by species, but many penguins will mate with the same member of the opposite sex season after season.

Two chinstrap penguins
iStock/Legacy-Images

10. Similarly, most species are also loyal to their exact nesting site, often returning to the same rookery in which they were born.

Magellanic penguin nesting in the ground
iStock/JeremyRichards

11. Some species create nests for their eggs out of pebbles and loose feathers. Emperor Penguins are an exception: They incubate a single egg each breeding season on the top of their feet. Under a loose fold of skin is a featherless area with a concentration of blood vessels that keeps the egg warm.

Penguin eggs
iStock/Buenaventuramariano

12. In some species, it is the male penguin which incubates the eggs while females leave to hunt for weeks at a time. Because of this, pudgy males—with enough fat storage to survive weeks without eating—are most desirable.

A group of emperor penguins and chick
iStock/vladsilver

13. Penguin parents—both male and female—care for their young for several months until the chicks are strong enough to hunt for food on their own.

Penguin chick and parent on a nest
iStock/golnyk

14. If a female Emperor Penguin's baby dies, she will often "kidnap" an unrelated chick.

Three emperor penguin chicks
iStock/AntAntarctic

15. Despite their lack of visible ears, penguins have excellent hearing and rely on distinct calls to identify their mates when returning to the crowded breeding grounds.

Gentoo penguins
iStock/Goddard_Photography

16. The first published account of penguins comes from Antonio Pigafetta, who was aboard Ferdinand Magellan's first circumnavigation of the globe in 1520. They spotted the animals near what was probably Punta Tombo in Argentina. (He called them "strange geese.")

A group of magellanic penguins on the seacoast
iStock/encrier

17. An earlier, anonymous diary entry from Vasco da Gama's 1497 voyage around the Cape of Good Hope makes mention of flightless birds as large as ducks.

A cape penguin in South Africa
iStock/ziggy_mars

18. Because they aren't used to danger from animals on solid ground, wild penguins exhibit no particular fear of human tourists.

Man videotaping a penguin in Antarctica
iStock/Bkamprath

19. Unlike most sea mammals—which rely on blubber to stay warm—penguins survive because their feathers trap a layer of warm air next to the skin that serves as insulation, especially when they start generating muscular heat by swimming around.

Penguin swimming in the ocean
iStock/Musat

20. In the 16th century, the word penguin actually referred to great auks (scientific name: Pinguinus impennis), a now-extinct species that inhabited the seas around eastern Canada. When explorers traveled to the Southern Hemisphere, they saw black and white birds that resembled auks, and called them penguins.

This story was first published in 2017.

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