Stink Bugs

Let It Be

What’s with these creepy creatures that invade our homes in fall?

By Patty LaNoue Stearns

My feelings about insects have evolved, and I credit living Up North for this continuing enlightenment. After all, this is the place where fairylike iridescent dragonflies dance on the water, luminous fireflies twinkle like so many stars, and mayflies–among nature’s most exquisite creatures–herald spring in full swing and not incidentally the best trout fishing of the season.

I have even shifted my opinion of the indoor variety. No longer the icky invaders I once executed on sight, they’re fine as long as they’re not crawling on me or infiltrating my food supply–that’s where I draw the line. Spiders make great house pets, at a distance. Not in my bedroom as I’m about to call it a night. Ants are okay, just not on my countertops. Moths are fuzzy, dusty little things, fine by the porchlight, okay in the hall, just not chewing on my clothing.

I have kindled an odd relationship with a rather large insect known as a stink bug. It’s something that made my skin crawl when we first met, but like the sound of a bellowing Doberman I occasionally heard in my former Detroit neighborhood, I’ve grown accustomed to the not-so-little bugger.

Big, brown, winged and clumsy, stink bugs look a little like  cockroaches, make a whirring sound when and if they decide to fly, and they love life on the lake just like I do. When they find their way into my house, they hang out in the Jacuzzi or on my window screens. I didn’t realize they would become permanent guests in my household, but they seem to enjoy our pad, and they usually bring ladybugs with them, which I’ve always heard is good luck.

Where I once smashed the occasional stink bug that treaded on my floor, now I just toss it outside. Or ignore it completely. Or talk to it as I move it out of my way. Stink bugs no longer intimidate me. In fact, just as I stepped into the shower stall the other day, I noticed one crawling on the shower floor. I couldn’t bear to drown it, so I picked it up and put it on the ledge above me, turned on the water and lathered up. From the corner of my eye, I saw the bug flexing its six legs, doing a little glad dance as the mist humidified the air.

That’s when I started thinking: Stink bugs have feelings–make that feelers–too. Duke Ellsner, the bug expert at the Michigan Extension Service, says stink bugs–he calls them leaf-footed pine seed bugs–live in pine cones and come into houses and building in the fall to stay warm. “They’re amongst the creepiest of fall insects,” says Ellsner. “But they don’t bite, and they don’t eat anything.”

So I’ve learned to coexist with these clunky brown bugs, whose appellation seems entirely out of line. They do emit a smell when riled up, true, but it does not stink. Or at least, I don’t perceive it that way, and people’s perception about the stinkbug’s warning spray is all over the map, according to Ellsner: “Some think it a most pleasant odor.” I’m one of them. It’s a mixture of kiwi fruit, bananas and new-mowed lawn, which is precisely the aroma of a new body lotion I bought recently.

So I let them be. They’re harmless, they’re clean, they have a right to exist, and the sight of one of two of them in any given week is simply not a big deal. Besides, soon they’ll be back outside, playing in the sunshine, just like us.

(This essay originally appreared in Northern Home & Cottage.)