Zimmerman was still downstairs when he heard her scream. He sprinted up to join her, and the two of them stood in the doorway, aghast. Their bedroom walls were crawling with insects—not dozens of them but hundreds upon hundreds. Stone knew what they were, because she’d seen a few around the house earlier that year and eventually posted a picture of one on Facebook and asked what it was. That’s a stinkbug, a chorus of people had told her—specifically, a brown marmorated stinkbug. Huh, Stone had thought at the time. Never heard of them. Now they were covering every visible surface of her bedroom.
“It was like a horror movie,” Stone recalled. She and Zimmerman fetched two brooms and started sweeping down the walls. Pre-stinkbug crisis, the couple had been unwinding after work (she is an actress, comedian, and horse trainer; he is a horticulturist), and were notably underdressed, in tank tops and boxers, for undertaking a full-scale extermination. The stinkbugs, attracted to warmth, kept thwacking into their bodies as they worked. Stone and Zimmerman didn’t dare kill them—the stink for which stinkbugs are named is released when you crush them—so they periodically threw the accumulated heaps back outside, only to realize that, every time they opened the doors to do so, more stinkbugs flew in. […]
The defining ugliness of a stinkbug, however, is its stink. Olfactory defense mechanisms are not uncommon in nature: wolverines, anteaters, and polecats all have scent glands that produce an odor rivalling that of a skunk; bombardier beetles, when threatened, emit a foul-smelling chemical hot enough to burn human skin; vultures keep predators at bay by vomiting up the most recent bit of carrion they ate; honey badgers achieve the same effect by turning their anal pouch inside out. All these creatures produce a smell worse than the stinkbug’s, but none of them do so in your home.
Slightly less noxious but vastly more pervasive, the smell of the brown marmorated stinkbug is often likened to that of cilantro, chiefly because the same chemical is present in both. In reality, stinkbugs smell like cilantro only in the way that rancid cilantro-mutton stew smells like cilantro, which is to say, they do not. […]
What makes the brown marmorated stinkbug so impressively omnivorous is also what makes it a bug. Technically speaking, bugs are not synonymous with insects but are a subset of them: those which possess mouthparts that pierce and suck (as opposed to, say, caterpillars and termites, whose mouths are built, like ours, to chew). Yet even among those insects which share its basic physiology, the stinkbug is an outlier; Michael Raupp, an entomologist at the University of Maryland, described its host range as “huge, huge, wildly huge. You’re right up there now with the big guys, with gypsy moths and Japanese beetles.” […]
[A]s it turns out, the brown marmorated stinkbug is exceptionally hard to kill with pesticides. Peter Jentsch, an entomologist with Cornell University’s Hudson Valley research laboratory, calls it the Hummer of insects: a highly armored creature built to maximize its defensive capabilities. Its relatively long legs keep it perched above the surface of its food, which limits its exposure to pesticide applications. […] A class of pesticides known as pyrethroids, which are used to control native stinkbugs, initially appeared to work just as well on the brown marmorated kind–until a day or two later, when more than a third of the ostensibly dead bugs rose up, Lazarus-like, and calmly resumed the business of demolition. […]
Once it settles down for the season, it enters a state known as diapause–a kind of insect hibernation, during which its metabolism slows to near-moribund conditions. It cannot mate or reproduce, it does not need to eat, and although it can still both crawl and fly, it performs each activity slowly and poorly. […] It is also thanks to diapause that stinkbugs, indoors, seem inordinately graceless and impossibly dumb. But, as we all now know, being graceless and dumb is no obstacle to being powerful and horrifying. […]
Unlike household pests such as ants and fruit flies, they are not particularly drawn to food and drink; then again, as equal-opportunity invaders they aren’t particularly not drawn to them, either. This has predictable but unfortunate consequences. One poor soul spooned up a stinkbug that had blended into her granola, putting her off fruit-and-nut cereals for life. Another discovered too late that a stinkbug had percolated in her coffeemaker, along with her morning brew. A third removed a turkey from the oven on Thanksgiving Day and discovered a cooked stinkbug at the bottom of the roasting pan. Other people have reported accidentally ingesting stinkbugs in, among other things, salads, berries, raisin bran, applesauce, and chili. By all accounts, the bugs release their stink upon being crunched, and taste pretty much the way they smell. […]
Raupp, who has been studying non-native species for forty-one years, called its arrival on our shores “one of the most productive incidents in the history of invasive pests in the United States.” Because the stinkbug is, as he put it, “magnificent and dastardly,” it has attracted an almost unprecedented level of scientific attention. It has spawned multimillion-dollar grants, dozens of master’s degrees and Ph.D.s, and a huge collaborative partnership that includes the federal government, land-grant colleges, Ivy League universities, extension programs, environmental organizations, trade groups, small farmers, and agribusiness. “From a research perspective,” Raupp said, “this was and continues to be one of the major drivers in the history of entomology in the United States.”
Kathryn Schulz, Home Invasion, Annals of Ecology, The New Yorker Magazine, 12 March 2018
Added to diary 18 March 2018