Although there are several species of native stink bugs, the invasive pest which was first reported in North Carolina in 2009 is the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB).
It has since spread and since early 2020 has been reported in 75 North Carolina counties, including Jackson and Swain, where it is both a nuisance and a pest. However, I likely don’t have to tell you this, as you’ve probably seen several in recent weeks trying to invade your home or have a feast in your garden.
BMSB can be easily distinguished from other native stink bugs by looking for white-colored bands on their antennae and sometimes on their legs. When mature, the adults are approximately ⅝ of an inch long. Outdoors, most stink bugs can be found overwintering in dead trees or logs, but BMSB are the only stink bug species that will seek out human-made structures to overwinter in instead.
By April and May, the adults emerge and begin feeding and reproducing, but they are typically considered a late-season pest, as BMSB typically impacts plants most when they have matured. From mid-September to October, they begin dispersing to overwintering sites, hence the large number flocking to windows and trying to sneak inside!
BMSB can be a major pest in the garden because of their piercing-sucking mouthparts which not only feed on plant tissue, but secrete an enzyme that kills surrounding plant tissue. Damage is most commonly seen on tomatoes, peppers, okra, apples, peaches and corn, however it is sometimes not seen on the plant tissue until a few weeks after BMSB have already fed on the tissue.
If you notice several BMSB in your house, the best thing you can do is prevent them from entering. Placing snug-fitting screens over windows, doors, and vents, as well as caulking cracks and sealing doors will help reduce their entry. If their populations are very large, it’s best to contact your local pest control company to help with the issue.
However, due to the large population in our area, this may only be effective for a short period of time.
In the garden, they can be killed in the same way as Japanese beetles, by gently shaking the plant over a bucket of soapy water to dislodge and eventually drown the BMSB. The use of a few pesticides has shown some success, however because the total population is large, it can be difficult to control them in the long term.
Remember that all pesticides, even an organic or naturally-derived pesticide, can be dangerous. It’s important to only use pesticides when absolutely necessary in order to protect pollinators, the environment, human health and more.
More tips on BMSB management and many other horticultural needs can be found by contacting the Jackson County Extension Office at 586-4009 or Jackson.ces.ncsu.edu or the Swain County Extension Office at 488-3848 or Swain.ces.ncsu.edu.
Katie Ashley is the NCSU horticulture extension agent for Jackson and Swain counties. She can be reached at Katie_Ashley@ncsu.edu.