Invasive insects make big stink

CHARLESTON -- The swarm is coming and it stinks.

A plague of tiny bugs is infesting homes in the mid-Atlantic states, coming in through windowsills and cracks in the door, trying to get out of the cold. It doesn't do much good to swat them. When a stink bug gets smashed, it leaves an ammonia-like smell. If a swarm gets exterminated, there's another swarm right behind it. And the pesticides that kill brown marmorated stink bugs are too strong to use indoors.

Whew, good thing that critter is in the mid-Atlantic, right?

Uh, no.

"That species has been spotted in North Carolina. They could get here. They may well be here. Their range in Asia encompasses South Carolina's climate," said Paul Mitchell, Winthrop University biology professor, who has studied the pest.

And that's not the worst of it. "I'd be far more worried about the kudzu bug," she said. That stinker has already moved from Georgia into 16 counties Upstate.

The only bright spot in the invasion is that if there is a swarm of bugs coming through the cracks of your Lowcountry home right now, the critters are most likely Asian lady bugs. And they don't stink. When swatted, they leave a yellow smear on the wall.

The stink bug, the lady bug and the bean plataspid, or kudzu bug, are all invasive species, Asian insects that have joined what's becoming an ecosystem full of crawling, swimming, flying or tendrilling takeover artists.

The Lowcountry already has plenty of native stink bugs. But as a rule, they don't come indoors. The brown marmorated stink bug first showed up in Pennsylvania in 1998, literally made itself at home in the Northeast, and started moving south. The bugs spread quickly. The kudzu bug didn't even show up in Georgia until 2009.

Entomologists worry about them chiefly as agricultural pests. The aptly named kudzu bug has its good side: It devours the foot-a-night plant whose strangling vines are a scourge of the South. But it and the brown marmorated stink bug like soybeans, too, and have chewed up other crops as well. Both the lady bug and kudzu bug are cliff-dwellers in their native lands and have shown a scary fondness for swarming the walls of homes like frittering ivy.

Several Beaufort County exterminators reached last week said stink bugs have not yet been a problem locally. Pest control companies in Beaufort and Bluffton and on Hilton Head Island said they haven't received complaints concerned about stink bugs in homes.

If they do show up, the only tried-and-true remedy is your vacuum cleaner. Laurie Reid, S.C. Forestry Commission entomologist, recommends sealing the filled-up vacuum bag and sticking it in the freezer to make sure the insects are dead before disposing of the bag.