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Stink bugs foul warm spell

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By Amy Crawford
Saturday, Feb. 19, 2011

They're back.

The shield-shaped brown stink bugs that plagued Pennsylvania last year, clinging to window screens, creeping in through crevices and congregating on the sides of homes, have begun reappearing with the year's first springlike temperatures.

"As soon as it warms up, we start getting the calls," said Don Swaney, an exterminator with Vermin Control in North Union, Fayette County. His company has received up to a half dozen stink bug-related calls per day this week.

In fact, said Penn State urban entomologist Steve Jacobs, the stink bugs never went anywhere. They have been hiding in people's homes all winter.

"You might say they're hibernating," he said.

The brown marmorated stink bug, native to Asia, first appeared in the United States in 1998 in Allentown. The invasive species has been spreading through the United States since then, with 2010 the worst on record for the dime-sized insects.

"It was so bad this past year because it was such a warm spring and summer that we actually had two generations, whereas you usually have one," Jacobs said.

While the bugs pose a threat to crops, they are harmless to humans — despite the ick factor.

"Homeowners get stressed about it, but it's just a nuisance pest," Jacobs said.

Nuisance is right, Greensburg resident Matt Yusko said.

"There are stink bugs all over!" he complained. "They're so annoying! They stink worse than napalm!"

Just that morning, Yusko said, he found one on his bedroom ceiling. He trapped the slow-moving bug in a jar of water and drowned it, a disposal method that he said was fairly effective, without releasing the malodorous substance the bugs use as a defense.

"That's the only way I can think of to get rid of them," Yusko said.

Though opinions vary as to the actual stinkiness of stink bugs, area exterminators agree that they are more of a challenge than other pests.

"If they've already moved in for the winter, they're hard to find," said Sue Todd, financial manager at D-Bug Inc. in Latrobe. "They can be anywhere."

Experts recommended that homeowners seal cracks and crevices in the summer, while the bugs are outdoors. The best time to use pesticides is in the fall, when bugs are just beginning to find their way inside.

A company in Spokane, Wash., Sterling International, has devised a trap especially for stink bugs — the RESCUE! Stink Bug Trap. The pesticide-free device, which was tested by the Department of Agriculture at its Maryland research farm, uses pheremones to attract the bugs.

"We were aware that this problem started to explode last year," said Stephanie Cates, the company's marketing director, who is originally from Upper St. Clair.

Unfortunately, the trap, which works only outdoors, will not be available in local garden stores until July, Cates said.

The traps can't come soon enough for some Pennsylvanians.

"Why so late?" Yusko said. "We need them now!"

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