Monday, February 7, 2011

Depair in a Glass Coffin

Brown Marmorated Stink Bug
For the last few winters, homeowners all over southeastern Pennsylvania have endured "infestations" of Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs (Halyomorpha halys), a non-native species believed to have been introduced into the eastern United States in packing crates from China.  They were first collected near Allentown, Pennsylvania in September 1998.  (Incidentally, don't you love the name "marmorated," which means "marbled.")

My house has a bumper crop this year, as always.  The bugs seek refuge from winter by squeezing into any available crevice in the autumn.  Then, in mid-winter for some reason, those that chose to escape the cold in buildings emerge into the interior of the structures, where they can be seen flying and crawling everywhere.  Fastidious homemakers freak out, but I have an altogether different reaction.

These bugs, admittedly, are non-native and they are plant pests.  When I go to harvest the last few tomatoes in my garden in October and I find that each one has been damaged by the proboscis of a stink bug, I curse the bugs and am inclined to sympathize with those homeowners who won't tolerate the natural world crossing the threshold of their abode.

However, I can't really bring myself to loathe them and, in winter, I actually sympathize with them.  Last week, in the midst of an ice storm, I came across one of the bugs clinging to the window pane above my kitchen sink.  Surely, in this bug's mind, there was an invisible force field inexplicably preventing it from fulfilling its destiny in the light.  Undoubtedly it was starving and it probably felt the mating imperative, but it just couldn't see its way clear or even to simply survive, since the bugs don't last long once they emerge into the warm, dry, foodless house.

Did it know that it only had a few hours left?  Did it experience yearning?  Was its mesenteron growling for lack of food?

If it had been any season other than winter, I would have captured the bug (as I do all arthropods that show up in the house) and released it outside.  But this bug had only two options: starve to death in the house or freeze to death outside.  Life's neither pretty nor fair - we all know this - but the complete lack of choice for this doomed insect seemed particularly cruel.


Ray's Cowboy said...

We have stink bugs down here to. I really do not care for them. I have to say I am lucky the I do not have bugs in my house, except Sadie Mea the dog. She does get on my nerves at times. Other than that I am bug free.


Westernstock said...

A nice piece of empathetic writing

Jain said...

Aww, that's quite a compassionate post. Though I consider myself a softie, I'm a bit of a hard@ss about non-natives. You're right, though, being stuck between a rock and hard place is a cruel place to be.

Scott said...

Ray, I'm sure that Sadie Mae doesn't "bug" you as much as these northern stink bugs bother most neat-freaks around here. The native stink bugs almost never find their way into the house, but these new imports are insidious.

Scott said...

Thank you, Westernstock. Even pesky native houseflies elicit this response in me.

Scott said...

Jain, as I replied to Westernstock, even houseflies elicit this response, and they sometimes show up in the winter, too, along with an occasional sleepy wasp.

I definitely go out of my way to dispatch non-native's too, but I just can't seem to work up the nerve to kill these poor bugs in the house in the winter.

And, incidentally, though they're called stink bugs and they do emit a pungent odor when severely manhandled (the native bugs seem much more prone to releasing their defenses then the brown marmorateds), I actually like the odor - it smells citrus-y and fresh to me; Kali thinks I'm nuts.

AnEyeForTexas said...

Beautiful post. It's hard to sympathize with a stink bug, but you have risen to the task wonderfully!

Scott said...

Thanks, Eye for Texas. Tomorrow, we're supposed to get temperatures topping 50 degrees, so I won't have to fret about the fate of my stinkbugs; I'll put them out, and then they're on their own!