FRANKLIN, Mass. (AP) — The conversation goes something like this: “Anyone know what is with the ridiculous amount of stink bugs? They are swarming the outside of our house. I have never seen this many.”
“All over the place!”
“My house is covered in them!”
“I’m freaking out!”
On several local community discussion pages on Facebook over the last couple of weeks, conversation threads have grown long with area residents wondering, ranting and worrying over the appearance of what most are referring to as “stink bugs” — that’s because of the odor they release that is described by some as akin to pine sap and by others as similar to apples or ripe bananas.
The insect is actually the western conifer seed bug — known to science as Leptoglossus occidentalis — and its sudden and prolific appearance around area homes and other constructions has a lot to do with the season and the insects’ instinct to begin snuggling into protected spaces for the winter.
“People often get them confused with stink bugs — they’re closely related, but different family — and they are always noticed this time of year because they overwinter as adults and like to creep into people’s homes to find a warm place for the winter. Stink bugs, lady bugs, and box elder bugs all do the same thing,” said Kaitlyn O’Donnell, an entomologist with Norfolk County Mosquito Control.
The seed bugs do have an alarming appearance, looking rather like something that just climbed out of the Jurassic. But they are harmless, Ms. O’Donnell said.
“They do not chew on wood or houses and they don’t bite people, or animals,” she said, noting that the seed bugs feed on the seeds and cones of conifer trees, which is how they got their name.
They are considered a minor nuisance insect with no major environmental impacts, and they do not spread any diseases around.
Even so, the bugs have been raising quite the fuss on social media, where many commentators are wondering why the insect seems so prevalent.
O’Donnell said there do seem to be a lot of the insects this year, but “I don’t know that there has truly been an increase in numbers or if people may be noticing them more because of the warm fall we have had so far and the lack of a frost. It is also possible they are more active, and are active later than usual, because of the unseasonably warm weather.”
Franklin’s Kristine Raymond Carter, who turned to fellow residents on the All About Franklin Facebook page to ask about the insects, openly admitted, “I’m not brave. I make a huge fuss about them.”
“I do a ‘room check’ every night before bed. They sneak in through windows that have screens with opened tiny spaces or they squeeze in between exterior doors so when you open the door they come in,” she commented. “I pray for snow at this time of year! I absolutely hate them!”
In an interview via Facebook Messenger, she noted that she lives in an area of Franklin with lots of pine trees — a prime feeding area for the seed bugs.
“I remember 4 to 5 years ago having a fall like this and having an over abundance of bugs,” she wrote. “Once we get frost regularly they go away.”
She uses her vacuum to suck the insects up if they get into her house.
“Seems to be the most smell-free way to get rid of them,” she said.
Ms. O’Donnell said the smell the seed bugs release “is an alarm response to discourage predators from wanting to eat them.” And if harassed or startled, they will spray.
Anna Cardona, of Millis, said this is the third year she has noticed the seed bugs around her home. Discussing the insects with fellow residents on the Millis Public Forum on Facebook she said, “I hate, hate these critters.”
“I have them all over the outside and they do get in — don’t ask me how,” she said, noting she has had to deal with an average of five every day. “Wish I knew how to get rid of them. They hide underneath the boards of the house.”
In Foxboro, Melissa Fino Letson lamented to fellow residents on The Foxboro Discussion Group on Facebook, “They are horrible! I have them at my house and in my classroom! Yuck!”
Fellow resident Leah Cardullo said she has a solution that seems to work for her — cotton balls treated with some drops of peppermint essential oil. She places a couple along windowsills.
“Although I know they’re harmless, I just find them so odd-looking. I found out the hard way that they fly when I tried to trap one between two small cups to take it outside,” she said in an interview via Facebook Messenger. “I’ve noticed them much less this fall at our house, primarily because we just replaced our windows this past winter. However, I do see them hanging out near my windows at work.”
She teaches at Foxboro High School, where she has been placing cotton balls with a few drops of peppermint oil along her classroom windowsills to keep them away.
“It seems to be working so far!” she enthused.
Ms. O’Donnell said she can’t vouch for the peppermint-soaked cotton ball solution, but did note “mint can be a natural pest deterrent.” It is something people can try, she said, but anyone who has a larger number of seed bugs invading their homes may not be able to rely on the method entirely to provide relief.
“The best thing to do is make sure homes are sealed up and try to determine where they are sneaking in from,” she said. “You can vacuum them up and get rid of them that way.”
Squashing the bugs isn’t the best idea, since the odor they usually emit when startled becomes even more pronounced when crushed.
So what’s a bug with the word “western” in its name doing in the northeast?
According to the Massachusetts Introduced Pests Outreach Project — a collaboration between the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources and the UMass Extension Agriculture and Landscape Program — “Western conifer seed bugs are native to the west coast of the USA, but have been established on the East Coast since the 1990s.”
It is thought that interstate commerce is a factor in the extension of the seed bug’s range.
The short end of the story, said Ms. O’Donnell, is just that “they are coming inside in order to overwinter.” Once there is a frost and consistently cold temperatures, the insects should be all tucked in for the winter, wherever that may be — under tree bark, in rock crevices, between the boards of houses and buildings.
“They will be inactive and will hibernate — or go into diapause as it’s called in entomology– to rest up for spring,” she said. “Then people may see them again as they exit their overwintering spot and lay eggs on their host trees.”
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