It's been a buggy year in Dallas, from the invasion of the
inchworm to the Crane Fly outbreak in March.
But those pale compared to the current insect scourge infesting my house: the brown marmorated stink bug.
These little creeps started showing up in late April, and at first, it didn't seem like cause for alarm. I'd seen them in prior spring seasons, along with another larger stink bug I thought I hated more called a leaf-footed bug.
If you try to kill or move a stink bug, they emit a noxious odor in defense, like the skunk of the insect world. I once watched my unwitting cat sniff one, then run in circles in agony for a few minutes after having set off the odor, which is musky and lingers in the air for quite a few minutes.
But otherwise, they don't bite and are viewed as harmless, although brown stink bugs are starting to have an impact on crops.
Brown marmolated stink bugs are an invasive species from Asia first spotted in the U.S. in the late '90s in Pennsylvania. They're shaped like a shield, about as big as a fingernail, are paper thin, and can fly. They're currently in nearly all 50 states.
In a 2012 Dallas Morning Newsstory warning of their arrival, they weren't here yet, so it's only been in the last decade, and just in Collin and Dallas counties.
I feel certain after this spring that they were all at my house. Inside my house. Somehow these things got inside my house, and it has been, how do you say, a journey.
Two brown marmorated stink bugs.gdb.voanews.com
Sources say that the brown stink bug can be found in leaf litter and vegetation outdoors, and can enter structures by the hundreds or thousands. And that they congregate almost anywhere: bookcases, under sofas, in cracks under or behind baseboards, window and door trim, and in attics.
I try to do no harm, I won't use Raid, it's cruel, even to bugs I don't like, which is most bugs, I usually put bugs I find outside. But these were in my living room, dining room, kitchen, crawling along the edge of my TV, climbing the front doorway, sitting on the coffee table, poised on the side of the refrigerator. One even had the nerve to crawl on my kitchen countertop, which my cats know is a big NO.
At first, my routine was to put a plastic container — a former Trader Joe's hummus container, which I went through a kick on last fall — over the bug, scooch a cardboard on top, hurriedly toss both out the door, run back in the house, then retrieve the container and cardboard once it was safe.
But I kept getting more stinkbugs. Part of this was moderately empowering. I used to be deathly afraid of insects — in high school, I once stayed up all night because there was a spider on the ceiling and I couldn't sleep knowing it was there. Being chill about any kind of bug seemed like personal growth, and supposedly every species has its role or purpose.
But brown marmorated stink bugs haven't been here long enough to serve a purpose, besides grossing people out.
I also like to allow nature to prosper. For example, they say it's better not to rake leaves but to leave them to replenish the soil. And I mow only intermittently, unlike the neatnik neighbors on either side of me. (I wonder if they mow more often to compensate for my lack of mowing?)
But then I read that, when stink bugs find a good place to stay, they release a pheromone that attracts more stink bugs. This needed to be disrupted immediately. The pheromone going out needed to say, "This is no place for stink bugs, stay away."
So instead of ferrying the stink bugs out to my yard, I started putting the container over two stink bugs and just leaving them on my floor. At least they could die together. Soon I had a dozen upside-down TJ's hummus cups strewn around the floor, and every single time I passed one, I felt so much guilt.
I started throwing them in the toilet; I read somewhere that the final stage of drowning is euphoria. But I couldn't bring myself to pee on one while it was in there floating, so I was flushing two and three times.
Things started to take a darker turn. Maybe pesticides aren't that bad? Luckily, I was saved from that descent by the National Pesticide Information Center Oregon who said that "using pesticides inside the home to control stink bugs is often ineffective."
Remembering the part about how "stink bugs can be found in leaf litter and vegetation outdoors," it seemed like time to call Ernesto, the competent landscaping guy who does half the houses in my neighborhood. He and his crew came and efficiently macheted my fantasy Topanga Canyon to the ground.
After they left, I surveyed the flattened terrain and for a minute, it did feel pretty good to have a tidy yard. But then I saw a rustle in the grass — a shell-shocked brown wolf spider running for cover — and felt terrible about destroying her home.
The clear-cutting did not stop brown stink bugs from showing up inside my house — probably too late in the game — although the population did seem to decline. I'm down to just one or two a day now. Probably would have happened regardless.
Really, they were innocuous. They're not creepy crawly, they just sit there, dim and innocent, letting you put your cup over them, farting out their fear. If only there hadn't been so damn many. Meanwhile, I was thrilled to spot the brown wolf spider a few days later — she stuck around.