It’s been only four years since I last wrote about insect invaders and how they want to spend the colder months of the year inside our homes.Since then, the Asian ladybird beetle seems to have lost its number-one ranking of the bug most likely to camp out inside. Its been replaced by a new candidate: the brown marmorated stink bug, or BMSB.
I thought it might be helpful to review a bit as types of stink bugs seem to be numerous and widespread. The BMSB, unlike some of the other stink bugs, is becoming a major insect pest of the landscape. It has quickly become a growing problem since it was first discovered in the East in the late 1990s.
It’s distinguished from other stink bugs by coppery- or bluish-metallic-colored punctures on its head and body. And it earns its name when crushed or annoyed, as it emits a foul odor.
Like all of the bugs and beetles looking for a way inside, the brown marmorated stink bug will seek the smallest of openings. It can enter via the smallest crack in the foundation, doorsill, windowsill, fascia, chimney or any other crevice to get into your house.
This is the perfect weather for the BMSB, which is attracted to the outside of houses on warm fall days in search of protected, overwintering sites. The bugs can reappear during warmer days throughout the fall and winter, reemerging in the spring.
This native of China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan won’t harm humans, nor will it reproduce or cause structural damage while inside, but it has become a serious pest of fruit, vegetables and farm crops. And, aside from noisily flying about, the harmless insect will smell pretty bad when squashed or pulled into a vacuum cleaner.
But let’s reminiscence and go back to the morning of October 20, 2003, which was one of the coldest October mornings we’d had in a while. There was some scattered frost but the time of the season hit me particularly hard when I went to pick some faded flowers off a potted mum and the flower was frozen solid.
The next day, however, the temperature was back around 70.
I don’t know if it was a coincidence or if the sudden swing in temperatures was the trigger, but suddenly on the warmer of the two days my office and the entire building was swarming with Asian ladybird beetles, which are a dull orange color and have anywhere from zero to 19 black spots on their wing covers. It took only one very cold fall night followed by a sunny warm day to stimulate the invasion.
Asian ladybird beetles are very effective predators and can feed on other landscape and garden pests, such as aphids, scales and a few other insects. However, in late summer and early fall, they congregate in large numbers—often in the thousands—and seek shelter. They tend to be attracted to homes with exteriors that are light in color with southerly exposures—but they are also equal-opportunity shelter seekers.
Tightly sealed windows and well maintained exterior house trim helps a great deal in keeping these insects outdoors. If you have a large number making it into your living spaces, you can assume that the cold winter winds can do the same thing.
Some caution needs to be exercised, however, when trying to get rid of Asian ladybird beetles as they can exude an orange-colored liquid when annoyed, swatted, swept or crushed and the liquid can leave stains on fabrics. The best and easiest way to collect and get rid of them is to use a vacuum cleaner. Contrary to current rumors, these beetles do not bite.
Asian ladybird beetles and brown marmorated stink bugs are not the only fall home invaders of the insect type. In fact, each region of the country seems to have four or five bugs that just can’t wait for the cooling of the fall to come on in and join us.
These are all insects that quietly and inconspicuously go about their business, outdoors in our gardens in the summer, but seek overwintering shelter in our protected sites. None of them bite or sting, but their sheer numbers, rude behavior and some distinguishable odors make them unwanted visitors.
The Western conifer seed bug is another relative newcomer to the East End. It also invades homes in the fall, but usually in much smaller numbers than the ladybugs. This bug is about 3/4 of an inch long, has gray and brown coloration and greatly resembles a squash vine bug.
Its size and slow movements can be quite alarming to some but it is relatively harmless. However, when handled or crushed, like the BMSB, a Western conifer seed bug can also exude a foul-smelling odor.
The birch catkin bug usually becomes noticed prior to all the other invaders that we’ll look at. Immatures of this lygaeid hemipteran often develop in the seed capsules of azalea, rhododendron and Japanese andromeda.
They will congregate in large numbers in birch trees (especially the white-barked birches) in August and September. From there they may move to the sides of homes and buildings.
These insects are rather small and may not actively seek to be in homes. They seem to hitch rides on the clothing of people that pass by them or on household pets that walk near them. And yes, again, these bugs can exude a foul-smelling odor when crushed.
The box elder bug spends the summer using its piercing-sucking mouth to feed on seeds, especially those of the box elder tree. This half-inch-long, black bug with orange markings, will congregate in large numbers on the sides of homes and seek entry.
Its presence is often quite alarming and unwanted, which in some instances leads homeowners to finally remove the host female box elder tree that’s just outside. Of course, when it’s your neighbor’s tree there’s a bit of a problem. Unlike the Asian ladybird beetle, which seems to be an annual occurrence, the box elder bug seems to run on a longer cycle and may not be a problem for years, before appearing en masse.
Most homeowners quickly lose the unique feeling of curiosity that these insects usually impart and their emotions soon turn to dread and frustration, if only from the sheer number of insects that may come in without the courtesy of even knocking. There are, however, a few commonsense approaches that we can take as precautions against these and the other unwanted houseguests.
All doors, windows and attic vents should be inspected every summer for small openings and holes in screens. Caulking around trim and crevices should be checked for shrinkage and damage.
Once discovered, the problems should immediately be tended to since pests like the beetles will seek out these holes for potential overwintering sites, then on the first sunny and warm winter day, they often awaken and continue the invasion.
Once any of these insects make their way into the home they should be vacuumed up, then the vacuum bag should be removed and placed in a tightly sealed plastic bag and moved to an outdoor location. Never, ever use insecticides indoors to kill or control these insects. There are, however, products that can be applied to the outside of doors and windows that seems to be effective and long-lasting repellents.
In the case of the ladybugs, some gardeners may want to vacuum up the offenders and store them in the vacuum bag in a cold garage or shed until spring arrives. Then they can then be released back into the garden where they’ll become friends again instead of invaders.
We still have several weeks to get daffodils planted. Remember, though, that November 1 is the last legal day for fertilizer applications to lawns.
If you didn’t try the repetitive overseeding technique on your lawn, look into dormant winter seeding.
Don’t allow wet leaves accumulate on the lawn. Shred, compost or blow fallen leaves into beds and gardens as a winter mulch. But, if gardens are still active hold off for a couple more weeks.
Now’s a great time to check your lawn and garden soil pH. Late fall is the perfect time to apply granular limestone for adjustments.
Montauk Daisies looking a bit tall and ungainly? Trim them hard in June and they’ll stay nice and compact.
As always, keep growing.