Bugs Are Welcome!
Most people go “Ew!” when they spot a bug in their homes and quickly run to fetch a can of bug spray. Jennifer Scarlott however, has welcomed the little stink bugs who visited her home. She tells you all about them!
There are creatures in my home. I know I am supposed to be bothered by this. The “extermination” business in America is a gigantic industry. People call “the exterminator” when they see a single ant on their kitchen counter. Cockroach – don’t approach, mouse – out of my house, fly – good-bye.
I do prefer not to live with swarms of anything, including people. But if a mouse finds its way into my apartment, I find a way, hopefully before my cats get busy, to capture it calmly and gently, and release it outside. But my gosh, the effort, the expense Americans go to to try and ensure that they live in hermetically-sealed spaces in which all other species are banished, is nothing short of extraordinary.
Take the humble stink bug. A member of the insect “superfamily” Pentatomoidea, in the Heteroptera suborder of the Hemiptera order, there are apparently some 7,000 species in this family. I have stink bugs in my apartment. These little creatures are related to insects known variously as “shield bugs” and “jewel bugs.” The kind I have are apparently non-native, having arrived from China (so many things “made in China”!), in some shipment of something or other in the mid-’90s. Since that time, they have become something of a pest to fruit farmers, as well as to homeowners of the type that flip out whenever they encounter an insect in their tightly-sealed, pesticide-sprayed domiciles.
Stink bugs are so-called because they have glands in their thorax that produce a foul-smelling liquid, used to deter potential predators. The smell can also be detected when the bugs are crushed. Now, people do NOT like animals that employ “bad” smells in their defense, but, hey, if you lived in a world of giants that took pleasure in eradicating you, wouldn’t this seem like a sensible way to protect yourself?
The stink bugs in my apartment (on a good or bad day, depending on how you think about it, I probably see three or four), are known as brown marmorated stink bugs, or Halyomorpha halys. The dignity given by the beautiful Latin name is overkill because these are intrinsically dignified “bugs.” They are very small, about 17 mm. long. They are a nice brownish grey colour. They have short, elbowed legs, two, nice short antennae. They have small heads, and their bodies are shaped like tiny shields.
Really, they are quite charming. But homeowners deplore them, and according to the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, they are “becoming an important agricultural pest in Pennsylvania,” since they, like people, enjoy the taste of apples and peaches. They also have a fondness for blackberries, sweet corn, field corn, soybeans, tomatoes, lima beans, and green peppers. Nice vegetarian diet!
The Penn State entomology website says: “These insects are not known to cause harm to humans, although homeowners become alarmed when the bugs enter their homes and noisily fly about. The stink bug will not reproduce inside structures or cause damage.” The website warns that pesticides used against stink bugs are ineffective and may lead to the arrival of other, more “problematic” insects, so waging chemical warfare against stink bugs is not advised. This has not stopped countless extermination companies from advertising their anti-stink bug services on the Internet, however, or homeowners from railing against the tiny insect, and begging each other for tips on how to rid their homes of their deplorable presence. Well. What is it like, living with stink bugs? The few I see each day seem to do the following: Sit. Walk extremely slowly. Fly, slowly, and with an impressive heavy, buzzing sound for a second or two. My cats were initially mildly curious, but now completely ignore them. I put one outside once, on a chilly winter day, but when I noticed two hours later that it had not moved from the spot I had put it, and seemed stunned by the temperature, I brought it back in to my pleasantly warm living room, leaving it on the broad leaf of a plant. It revived.
That is about all I have to say about stink bugs. They look quite prehistoric, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there are fossil stink bugs indicating exceedingly ancient origins. They are really quite decorative, in their humble, brownish-grey way, and their cousin, the emerald-green jewel bug, is a ravishing beauty. I do not mind sharing my space with them. Why should I? We don’t bother each other. They remind me, when I am indoors, that nature will not be denied. Thank goodness for stink bugs. Having avoided harming one, I have yet to smell one.
Vin et sine vivere. Live and let live.
Jennifer Scarlott is based in New York, U.S.A. and is Director, International Conservation Initiatives, Sanctuary Asia. You can contact her at
by Jennifer Scarlott, First appeared in: Sanctuary Cub, March 2012