Thursday, September 23, 2010

Every Year a Different Bug

Stink bug nymphs on Fig leaf.

This year was the coolest summer on record here in Portland Oregon and throughout the Pacific NW.  You can hear people everywhere whining about green tomatoes and then the screech of their mental brakes as the switch gears to try and figure out how to use the green ones they now have a bounty of.  Me, my switch was to put up a big ol' tent over the top of my tomatoes to get some ripe ones.  But that's not what I'm writing about today.  Today it's all about bugs.  Stink bugs to be specific.  Like those ones we used to smash as kids that gave off a sweet stink...those bugs.

Stink bugs look a lot like beetles but have a very specific identifying mark, a triangular shaped shield on their backs at the shoulders.  Most are pests but some are good guys like the soldier bug and the minute pirate bug.  Its good to get to know which is which so you are not smashing the good guys just because they are bugs.

How I got started on all this was the discovery of what look to be Brown Marmorated Stink Bug nymphs that hatched out on my fig tree and which quickly found my purple orach where they happily sucked way...that's what stink bugs do...suck. It seems the orach is good trap plant to have so you can see if you have stink bugs as they sure love that plant and mine was loaded with them.  Oh and if you decide to try this at home and find you have the bugs, here's a tip...they brush  off into a bug jar quite easily (that would be a "killing jar" aka a jar with alcohol in it for killing the bugs).  The kids just love collecting bugs this way.

The bugs were first spotted when I was visiting with a guest in my garden.  It was actually my guest who first spied the egg mass and nymphs on one of the leaves on my fig tree.  They looked sort of cute being in the nymph stage and all, but somehow they they still just made my skin crawl.  Makes me wonder if I have some sort of gardener's safety alarm that can sense danger sometimes.  (Or, maybe I've seen to many old horror movies like Attack of the Killer Ants.)

Not really sure what kind of insect they were I posted my photos to the ID query at Bug Guide, an internet site where a lot of entomology geeks hang out.  Within a few days I received a response back that they appeared to be the Brown Marmorated (whatever that means) Stink Bug.  Further investigation of my little invaders led me to find they are an  non-native invasive species from the Orient that is an orchard pest and loves to make its way into homes for the winter more than other stink bugs...and they can really stink up the place when disturbed and will mark their new found winter abode with a little buggy perfume.  The releasing of this odor is their way of noting that this home of yours and mine is a good nesting site too. Oh the joy.   

Other information stated that these bug have no predators in our region bringing home another reality...that this bug has all the potential of being an all out garden thug and vigilance is required.  Oregon State University info recommended contacting the Invasive species hotline if anyone thinks they have these bugs...which it seems is the case and which I will gladly do.  (Well all this just makes my day, let me tell I don't have enough to deal with with all the other garden battles I have with native pests.)

Another factoid about that stink they produce; it is part of what keeps them from being food for predators, so once established they are pretty free to procreate and suck away unless we humans do something about it.  Pheromone traps, hand collecting, insecticides may all have to come into play to keep them at bay. (Ok don't hate me for saying the insecticide word...this is war and it would only be used on host plants and very judiciously if it comes to that.)

This information also made me aware that these bugs are of some economic concern for the region I live in being that they are a pest to fruit trees, causing cat facing on the fruit, which is a dimpling effect that makes fruit unsaleable for most commercial markets.  It seems they also likes fig trees.  (NO NOT MY FIG TREE!  I love my fig tree.  They can't have my fig tree!  Its mine!!!) That is probably why we spotted the newly hatched egg mass with its pile-o-bugglets on one of the leaves...darn!

When I saw little invaders I must confess I sort of didn't care who they were, I only wanted them dead just in case they were pests. Carefully removing the leaf from the tree so the bugglets wouldn't drop off, (after I got my photos of course) I put it on the ground and commenced to do the "You ain't gonna get my plants" dance with my foot squarely planted on top of the bugs, smashing and grinding them into the soil where I knew their smashed-to-smithereens bodies would at least feed the plants and prohibit them from being able to do any dirty work themselves.  I did this however, with some apology just in case they were not bad guys, but I was not willing to take chances as I have a pretty good knowledge of beneficial insects and these being strange bugs had to die.  The funny thing is, that leaf, it was right at eye level and quite close to the path so how I missed it before is beyond me.  Guess I must be looking at the ground too much and will have to start taking note of my precious fig a bit more from now on too.

Stink bug on Purple Orach stem
Another one of those "Yuck!" moments was when I went to harvest the seed-laden branches of my Purple Orach and took them into my kitchen but didn't see the pile-o-bugs that had take up residence on the plants.  I laid out the Orach branches on a paper towel for drying and when I came back later that day to make dinner discovered I had some unwanted guests that had quickly found the bowl of apples, summer squash and which were also standing tall on the branches I had just laid down on the counter a short time before.  (shudder)  I am not bug phobic for the most part but this was more like an invasion and that gave me the willies.  I'm tellin' ya...this is the stuff of nightmares.  From now on I will be checking those branches more carefully.  These days I can still find some bugs on the beans, ripe sunflower heads and other seed bearing plants. I hope they don't like butternut squash and cucumbers.  (Lord have mercy)

Oh the title of this post was "Every Year a Different Bug"...last year it was cut worm, the year before the earwig and this year its the year of the stink bug.  Gee I'm so excited...(big sigh)

So if something smells sweet but stinky in you home this winter...don't think its in the compost bucket that needs to be taken out...just start looking for stink bugs.

Happy Gardening!

If you think you have found an invasive species in the state of Oregon please report it.  For more information go to

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