Stink bugs in Birmingham: by any other name, they’d stink the same

Birmingham, Alabama, stink bugs, Halyomorpha halys
Birmingham, Alabama, stink bugs, Halyomorpha halys
Stink bug. Photo via Pixabay

“Shield bugs” is one name, which describes the appearance, like an ornate piece of medieval armor. We call them “stink bugs” stateside, but perhaps the French named it best. “Punaise diabolique.” Devil bug! Whatever you call it, if you’ve got them in your Birmingham home, please don’t squash them. Your nose can thank us later.

Why They’re Here

There are many species within the stink bug family, Pentatomoidea, including green ones. The invasive variety most often in the news these days is the brown marmorated stink bug, or Halyomorpha halys.

Birmingham, Alabama, stink bugs, Halyomorpha halys
Brown marmorated stink bug. Photo via stinkbugsguide.net

The Halyomorpha halys is from China, Japan and Taiwan and first appeared in the U.S. in the late ’90s, probably as an unwelcome stowaway on shipping containers or machinery. In 2010, it made its way to Alabama.

As far as how it got to Alabama? One theory, according to an Auburn University article, is that it hitched a ride to the Southeast via out-of-state RVs headed to a Tennessee bluegrass festival and spread to Alabama from there.

Why They’re In Your House

Short answer. They’re cold. When autumn temperatures arrive, they start looking for cozy spots in your nooks and crannies to “torpor down” for the winter. (Torpor is kind of like hibernation for bugs.)

Birmingham, Alabama, stink bugs
Stink bug. Photo via Pixabay

Why They Stink, Literally…

When they’re threatened or harmed, stink bugs release a foul odor through holes in their abdomen. (So, yeah, don’t crush them.) If you get the stinky secretion on your skin, it can cause dermatitis. And even if you don’t come into direct contact, just having the bugs in your house can cause fall and winter allergies. 

And Figuratively

While brown marmorated stink bugs are unwelcome house guests this time of year, their biggest offense is the harm they cause to crops during the growing season. They use their proboscis to feed on a wide variety crops, including Alabama staples like corn, cotton and soybeans, causing damage and spreading disease. Apples, lima beans and tomatoes are also on the menu.

Our climate is ideal for the invasive brown marmorated stink bug’s reproductive cycle. It thrives without its natural predator, a parasitoid wasp species called japonicus, according to an Appalachian Magazine article. (And, no, introducing the wasp is not a good idea. Two wrongs don’t make a right.)

How To Get Rid Of Them

Birmingham, Alabama, vacuum
You’ve already got a stink bug weapon in your garage. Photo via Pixabay

For controlling stink bugs in crops, growers can get advice from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. For your home, this list from the Stink Bugs Guide seems to best sum up the online advice out there:

  • If you have a bad home infestation, call a pest control professional. (I got a guy. His name is Ricky.)
  • Check your house for entry points, such as cracks around windows and doors, and seal them up. 
  • Vacuum them up, whole house at once. When you’re done, carefully remove the bag, seal it and dispose of it.
  • Spray a solution of water and dish soap on individual bugs. It will kill them soon enough.

Want to be more savvy about identifying species, both native and non-native, you encounter in Birmingham? Check out Bham Now’s guide to iNaturalist.