A big stink

Students prepare for the now annual fall invasion of stink bugs

They're on your windows. They're in your rooms. They crawl up your walls and make nests in your homes. They're everywhere, and what's worse: they stink.

The infestation of Halyomorpha halys, more commonly known as "stink bugs," has become a noticeable issue at the University. The pesky insects congregate around windows and lamps, causing inconveniences in classrooms, dorms and in living spaces both on and off Grounds.

"In my house, there has been a small issue with [stink bugs]. They seem to just fly in and die everywhere," fourth-year College student Ethan Davidhizar said. "Especially in my housemate's room, there's a lamp with four or five dead ones."

The problem is not unique to Charlottesville. Swarms of the brown marmorated stink bug have plagued homes across the United States, especially on the East Coast.

"They actually follow paths," said Bob McCurry, an inspector for regional exterminator Dodson Pest Control. "You can see that the homes on the 29 corridor and 250 corridor have been hit the hardest."

According The Baltimore Sun, 10 U.S. states have jointly submitted a $22 million grant proposal to the National Institute of Food and Agriculture for research aimed toward immediate and enduring solutions.

Luckily, stink bugs do not pose any threats to humans; they do not bite or carry any diseases and only eat plants. Simply put, they are merely nuisances. Local farmers and owners of orchards and vineyards, however, have suffered damage to their crops by the invasive herbivores.

"The Department of Agriculture has just made available a product to save crops," McCurry said. "But in saying that, we still have a major problem."

Scientists believe the stink bug was accidentally introduced from Asia to the North American continent through cargo ships. They were first discovered in Pennsylvania in the late 1990s, and have since spread to areas with similar environmental conditions.

"The prevailing hypothesis is that populations have become so huge in the mid-Atlantic states because the stink bug can feed on many plant species in the region, the climate is favorable, and there are no predators here to keep the populations in check," said Adam Zeilinger, a Ph.D. candidate in the Conservation Biology Graduate Program at the University of Minnesota. "In other words, the stink bug has left all of its predators back in Asia."

These conditions have allowed the stink bug population to continue to rise at an almost alarming rate. Students have grown irritated as they find themselves sharing space with these unwelcome guests.

"One time there were about five dozen stink bugs swarming around the window," fourth-year College student Aaron Ross said. "There were six of them in my room when I walked in this morning."

McCurry explained that while in the summer, spring and fall stink bugs live in mulch and on tree bark, during the winter they enter homes and make nests in insulation, where they hibernate. With fall in full swing and the winter months approaching, the insects are already making an appearance in students' homes.

"First year, I woke up with a stink bug in my hair," third-year College student Erin Friedlander said. "Another time, there was one on my pillow, and also one time I found one on my toothpaste when I went to brush my teeth."

The bugs' attraction to light and warmth often make dorms a target for infestation.

"My roommate's friends who live in Gooch found a cluster of four or five stink bugs in a crack on the wall or ceiling, and to get rid of them, they decided to spray some sort of Lysol or bug spray on them," first-year College student Hunter August said. "Apparently, there were a hundred or so [stink bugs] that swarmed out of the crack and everywhere."

Conventional methods of pest control and extermination, such as fumigation, are only practical for extreme cases, McCurry explained. Instead, he recommends physically removing the pests or using decorative Insect Light Traps - or ILTs- to attract and capture the stink bugs.

Although simply killing the bugs on the spot might seem like the quickest solution, it's not the best idea.

"We don't recommend killing them inside," McCurry warned. "It welcomes other insects because they serve as bait for other bugs that feed on their carcasses. Then you end up having another problem."

In most cases on Grounds, where it is not practical to consult professional exterminators, students have found creative ways to deal with the annoying and pervasive pest.

"My friend found one [stink bug] on a wall and uncapped a water bottle and pressed the mouth of the water bottle against the wall," second-year College student Brian Berenbaum said. "The stink bug fit right inside. You can use water bottles to catch them so you don't have to touch them,"

Whichever method students use to deal with the issue, whether it be to call an exterminator or to coexist peacefully with the bugs, scientists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture are currently working on finding an effective solution to stifle the rapid population growth of the brown marmorated stink bug before it causes any more damage.

As for now, it seems that students will have to continue to put up with the fly - or rather - the stink bug on the wall.

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