Stink Bug Season Arrives in NJ, But Census on Hold Due to Gov't Shutdown

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK

    They're just looking for a place to crash this winter. All that's required is a little heat and a tiny space to hang their antennas. They're not even asking for one lousy meal.

    WATCH: Gov't Shutdown Impacts Area

    Yes, it's October, which means stink bugs are looking to get out of the field and into your home, where their unpleasant odor may occasionally waft through your house.

    A large number of stink bugs were reported this summer infesting farms in South Jersey, according to a Rutgers scientist. Whether there will be an overwhelming home invasion of the little critters this autumn in North Jersey is still being determined. A warmer-than-usual spring this year may have contributed to the high numbers expected in coming months.

    Due to the federal government shutdown this week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Great Stink Bug Count of 2013 is on hiatus. The survey's participants, who record how many stink bugs are camping on the homes' exteriors, have no place to send their results because the USDA website has been dark since Tuesday.

    "We don't have enough data to compare year to year right now,'' Anne Nielsen, a researcher at Rutgers' Department of Entomology, told The Record. "It's unfortunate that (the shutdown) happened right now in the middle of the count.''

    The good news is that when stink bugs get into your home, all they want to do is hibernate. They don't breed or feed during this time. And they don't carry diseases harmful to humans.

    But when they congregate together they can secrete odorous chemicals _ a defensive mechanism that has been described as everything from a strong cilantro smell to a skunk when they get really scared.

    Homeowners are advised to caulk any gaps in seals around windows and doors, keep garage doors closed and make sure attic vents are fully screened otherwise stink bugs will fly in.

    If they make it in your house, avoid crushing the insect, which will give off a strong odor. Use a small vacuum to collect them and release them outside or flush down the toilet. Larger vacuums could crush the bugs in their rotors and release the smell.

    "Once they get inside, they look for a safe spot,'' said Elaine Fogerty, the agricultural assistant for Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Passaic County. "They could be in between walls, under a cushion, in a pile of papers. They're not doing anything but resting. But when they wake up and want to go back outside, then they'll be a nuisance.''

    The insects known as brown marmorated stink bug, or halyomorpha halys, are approximately 17 millimeters long (about ª inch) and brown with off-white and reddish spots. Originally from Asia, they surfaced in North America in the late 1990s. The bugs rapidly spread across the country and have caused $21 billion in crop losses since their arrival.

    This year stink bugs have been found in 40 states, but only six mid-Atlantic states including New Jersey have reported "severe agricultural and nuisance problems,'' according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

    During summer months, they tend to feed on apples, peaches and corn in New Jersey. Most of the damage this year happened in South Jersey, Nielsen said.

    North Jersey farmers did not report any major problems with stink bugs during the 2013 growing season, said Joel Flagler, head of the Rutgers agricultural extension for Bergen County.

    "We're starting to get a lot of phone calls from homeowners now,'' Flagler said. "It's too early to say whether this will be a problem, but the entomologists tell us to expect it.''

    Rutgers was recently awarded a $2.7 million grant from the USDA to develop ways to manage the stink bug population and protect farms.