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Insects Invading N.H. Homes Are Stinky, But Aren't Actually Stink Bugs

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The western conifer seed bug has invaded homes across the state this fall.

Alan Eaton is a specialist in entomology at the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension. Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with Eaton about this invasion and why we’re seeing so many of the bugs this season.

So have you encountered any of these in your own home lately?

Oh yeah. In fact, when I was doing some caulking, for other reasons, only 10 days ago, I probably encountered 15 or 20 individuals walking over the side of my house. So that's a normal situation at this time of year for me, I guess.

They're a bit prehistoric looking. Can you describe them for the audience?

Well, they're elongated. They're brownish. They have longish antennae. And the one distinguishing character that confirms that it's this species and not something else, or makes it pretty likely anyway for a lay person, is that the rear, lower legs have a sideways extension that look broad like a leaf. That's why the family it's in are called the leaf-footed bugs.

No kidding. You learn something new every day.

Yeah, there you go. Whereas stink bugs, which people often call these stink bugs, even though they’re stinky that's a separate family, stink bugs lack that characteristic. So if you want to be highfalutin, you can call it a leaf-footed bug. Raise your voice slightly, or deepen your voice to sound authoritative and say it that way.

And these bugs release an odor when handled as a defense mechanism, but like you said, they're not exactly stink bugs.

Yeah, that's correct. And you said it just the right way. They especially release that odor when they're handled. And so you get it on your fingers or whatever. If you leave them alone, they don't tend to do that so much.

And these aren't harmful. They're not spreading any disease. They're not biting insects.

Exactly. It's just the yuck factor. They don't harm our furnishings. They don't bite us or our pets. They're just coming in to look for a place to spend the winter, and it's usually between the walls or up in the attic somewhere that they spend. And when the winter is over, they'll happily leave.

And we've seen these bugs before, but the numbers that we're seeing this season do seem to be a little more notable than in the past. Why is that?

Certainly we would guess that it must be that it was a good year for them. So the right conditions that they had, so they built up in good numbers. This is a critter that spends a great deal of its time up in the canopy of conifers. So, I don't spend a lot of time in the canopy of white pines, although there's a lot of them around. And if I were doing that, maybe I'd have the answer. So something about this growing season—maybe was nice and rainy. It did really well for them. They had the right moisture. Something was good. And now when it's time for them to start searching, they start sometime in September, walking around buildings and so forth, investigating cracks and looking for places. And boy they're good numbers, or maybe we should say bad numbers of them this year.

They seem to be competing for space, at least in my house, with ladybugs this year. What's the best way to prevent these insects from coming in looking for a winter home?

It's not the best answer that people are going to like, but the answer is you caulk and seal really well, especially around screens and other openings near windows, and doors and places like this. Here's the part people won't like, before Sept. 20. So you mark it on your calendar for next year. Most of them are already in by now. But caulking and sealing is by far the best way. And air conditioners left in windows are really good routes for them to get in. There's others as well, but that's one that people don't think of. So sealing and putting screening around them. These things are pretty tiny and they investigate pretty tiny cracks.

For many radio listeners throughout New Hampshire, Rick Ganley is the first voice they hear each weekday morning, bringing them up to speed on news developments overnight and starting their day off with the latest information.
Mary McIntyre is a senior producer at NHPR.
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