Stink bugs bring out the secret sadist in all of us

October 07, 2008

I read somewhere that stink bugs enjoy warmth, so in accommodation with their wishes, I built a bonfire and tossed about 4,000 of them into it. If they wished to shower me with gratitude, I was not around to hear it because I was busy rounding up another 8,000 that had already taken the place of the originals.

Look, if this is the result of global warming, I give.

I can stand the thought of New York and Oakland washing into the sea, but if climate change allows for the encroachment of these heat-seeking missiles, I am ready to start burning grapevines for fuel.

Perhaps, if you live in an apartment or in jail, you have not had the pleasure of being introduced to the species. If not, I feel for you, because they are quite the treat. They resemble the Lenco Bearcat attack vehicle, but are not as attractive.


But their prehistoric appearance is only part of the equation. Crush one and they emit a fragrance that is about as appealing as decaying octopus parts.

And the main problem is that even if you do crush them, they won't die. You can slide a stick of dynamite under a stink bug and detonate it, and the vermin will emerge from the concussion mildly irritated, but otherwise unscathed.

I know this because I have entered into many experiments designed to terminate stink bugs, hopefully adding as much pain onto the wagon as it will safely carry. Many of these efforts involve stick pins and rubber bands. I have set what I believe to be a world record of propelling a stink bug 30 meters through the air onto a home-grown cactus - but it doesn't worry them much.

And the cat isn't any help. Juliet has reached the age where she can't be bothered by big game such as rabbits or mice - a simple locust or grasshopper will satisfy her need to kill. And stink bugs are an option.

But rather than taking a mass, carpet-bomb approach racking up 40 kills an hour, the diminutive Siamese focuses on a single bug and applies all the necessary big-game skills that a squirrel might require.

This calls for stealth, patience, attention to detail, focus and a closing speed of about an inch every 20 minutes. Finally, out of frustration, I'll say, "Oh come on, just kill it, Juliet - it's not going anywhere." But she wants to do things her way.

I'm generally a live and let live kind of guy. I can handle ants, termites, roaches, Karl Rove, as long as they basically respect my space. But when they start showing up in my coffee cup, I begin to take exception. And Beth is the ultimate in wildlife acceptance, but when the upstairs windows became caked with the bugs, she reached a breaking point.

Her repeated affirmations to "Leave them alone, they don't hurt anything" became weaker and weaker. Finally, she said, there reaches a level where excesses cannot be tolerated, and stink bugs had cleared the bar.

Jaw set, she marched off to fill a jelly jar with gasoline and proceeded to fill it with the insects. The strategy appeared to work. The bugs got one whiff of the fumes and went belly up, like a Japanese Zero whose pilot ejected. They barrel-rolled lazily into the jar and kicked their last.

The only thing that bothered me is that with the price of gas, we were basically spending 40 cents for each insecticide. Worth it? Maybe.

But the only alternative is to wish for a hard freeze. That would mean Al Gore has won. I'm not sure the extermination of the stink bug is worth that.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or via e-mail at

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