The publication of a NYT article titled The Insect Apocalypse Is Here seemed to provoke a state of sixes and sevens about the well being of the world’s anthropod population and did get me thinking about my very favorite anthropod: the lowly stinkbug (and the Huffpost piece I wrote back in May of 2014).
Yes, I think these creatures — officially known as the brown marmorated stink bug — have gotten a bad rap. I’ve been living with them for more than a year and in my experience, they don’t stink. When they first started showing up looking all creepy and threatening I ran to the computer. There were admonitions all over the Internet: “Stay Away — Stink bugs not good for your health,” “Avoid crushing, smashing or swatting them at any cost,” “Your olfactory organs will be permanently disabled if you screw around with these insects.”
Fanning the flames of this hysteria were articles in newspapers with headlines that screamed, “Stink Bug Battle: Time to Squash Eggs,” “Maryland Farmers besieged by Stink Bugs” and even a video, “How to Fight the Stink Bug Invasion.” Now I’m imagining a contemporary War of the Worlds with an Orson Welles’ type delivering the blow by blow describing the carnage.
I did give them a wide berth at first but when I looked at these creatures — I mean really looked at them — what looked back at me were sad faces that didn’t seem to have a clue. Their colleagues in the insect world are a lot more aggressive and act accordingly. Flies like to endlessly buzz your head; bees always make a beeline (so to speak) to any open patch of skin; and ticks… well, they’re up for a good blood treat any old time and turn up in the most embarrassing of places. But stink bugs? They may sound like helicopters when flapping their wings but when they find a resting place they’ll sit for interminably long and docile periods of time. Periodically they move — up a shower curtain, down a window shade — but they’ll do it in such a mournfully slow manner that it does incite a bit of compassion.
I’ve taken to leaving them alone. One of their favorite watering holes is the bathroom sink and when I do morning and evening ablutions they seem to perk up a bit, wagging their antennae in a way that seems to say, “I’m not bothering you, so please just leave me alone,” and I do, usually. On occasion when they’re close to the drain and opening the faucet will certainly send them spinning down into insect oblivion I’ll take a bit of toilet paper, encourage them to climb on board, take them out the front door and give ’em a finger flick into the great outdoors.
When stink bugs park themselves in the same place, day after day, they begin to look familiar but I refrain (with difficulty) from wanting to baptize them with proper names. Detachment is key because I find as many stink bug corpses as I do living members of the species. Frankly, I don’t think they hang around very long and my guess is that they simply go belly up for no cause other than natural. Although there are three cats prowling around none have evidenced the slightest interest in the antics (or lack thereof) of these sad creatures.
And a funny thing: When a group of them mount positions on the wall or ceiling for extended periods of time they start to look like a living version of the tacky wallpaper that adorned my parents 1950s kitchen nook. Performance art, insect style.
I guess there’s a legitimate threat posed by stink bugs albeit not to home dwellers but to the owners of orchards and farms around the country where they can play havoc with peaches, apples and soybeans. They seemed to have hitchhiked from Japan, or China, or Taiwan or South Korea sometime in the late 1990s and found the land of the free and home of the brave much to their liking. Currently they’ve settled in some 41 states and have also decided to try their luck in the cooler climes of our northern neighbor, Canada.
There’s no “can’t-we-all-get-along” sentiments among the general population when it comes to peaceful co-existence with stink bugs. Currently a Manhattan Project style effort employing pest control’s best and brightest is underway searching for ways to bomb them back to the Stone Age or at least from whence they came.
Progress has been made according to an article in the Baltimore Sun: “Maryland’s newest terrorist life form may eventually meet its archnemesis in the form of a tiny prizefighter of a wasp from Asia.” Yes, a tiny parasitic wasp being cultivated in the labs of the United States Department of Agriculture may be dispatched forthwith to do battle with its much heftier marmorated adversary and according to scientists the fight won’t be pretty. It seems that the wasps like to off load their larvae into piles of stink bug egg masses. They begin to munch away from the inside and like Popeye consuming spinach grow bigger and stronger eventually bursting out as hitter adult wasps on the prowl for more stink bug eggs. It’s an insectivorous vicious cycle, red-in-tooth-and-claw, which might one day I fear translate into a really cheesy Sci-Fi Channel made-for-TV movie. (Note to self: Develop a pitch ASAP.)
I guess there’s a downside: Once the stink bug population gets wind of all this will they make a beeline, en masse, from farm and orchard to home and hearth?
Only time will tell.
Joel Sucher is a co-founder of Pacific Street Films (together with Steven Fischler) and has written for a number of platforms including American Banker, In These Times, Huffington Post and Observer. com.