Stinkbugs strike in Toronto's Annex, approaching wine country
The government is studying whether unleashing imported wasps to take on the stinkers is a good idea.
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Johanna Schneller, author of Metro’s What I’m Watching column, has been watching a horror show play out in her own home.
The supervillains? They’re stinkers. More precisely, they’re brown marmorated stinkbugs, an invasive species and a growing menace across Ontario.
For the past few weeks, large, slow-moving, flying insects, have been showing up by twos and threes in Schneller's third-floor home office in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood.
She didn’t think much of it. Until she squished one.
“They emit this really disgusting smell, like rotten leaves. It’s pungent, it lingers in the air,” Schneller said. “It’s like nature invented this bug to taunt us.”
Well, nature never intended for these bugs to be here. They hitchhiked here, likely from their native China, Korea or Japan, and, finding themselves in an environment with no natural predators, staged a takeover.
Measuring a little over a centimetre, pretty big for a bug, their bodies are brownish and shield-shaped, with distinctive white triangles along the edges.
Their two superpowers are their stink and their ability to eat almost anything, more than 200 kinds of plants, said Tara Gariepy, an entomologist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada who is researching ways to get the smelly pest under control.
In fact, government agencies are monitoring the bugs in preparation for a biological control project. For the past five years, they've been studying whether it’s a good idea to fight back against stinkbugs by unleashing tiny wasps, imported from Asia, that reproduce by hijacking stinkbug eggs. Gariepy said they're waiting for some project funding to come in before they move forward with the plan.
Asian stinkbugs are in an elite category of pests. They love urban trees and ornamental plants, making them a nuisance in the city, but they’re also a threat to a huge variety of agricultural products.
Known by its initials, BMSB, the insect first showed up in Hamilton, Ont., in 2010 and has been spreading ever since, Gariepy said.
“We’re seeing an expansion in (their) geographic area. They (range) from Windsor to Ottawa, sporadically,” she said. “We’re starting to see more and more reports in Toronto.”
Unlike in the United States, where the interloper has devastated apple orchards, stinkbugs haven’t done significant damage to crops in Canada, she added — but they’re closing in on the Niagara region, where they could threaten fruit trees.
Stinkbugs love attics and drafty older homes with cracks they can get into, Gariepy said.
Schneller feared there might be a “hideous nest” somewhere in her house, but that’s unlikely: Stinkbugs lie low indoors to stay warm for the winter, but don’t reproduce there, Gariepy said.
In the spring, they start getting active again and looking for way out. Then, if you have one, they'll head straight to your garden and mow down almost everything in sight.
Gariepy looked at a picture of a specimen from Schneller’s windowsill and confirmed it: White triangles. Definitely BMSB, not a harmless, local lookalike.
If you think you have them too, you should contact the province at email@example.com, Gariepy said.
Get rid of those stinkers
The best way to deal with stinkbugs is to keep them out. Seal crevices and repair screens, bug expert Tara Gariepy says. If they get in, try to toss them outside manually. Do not squish. Vacuuming works well, Gariepy said. They're not harmful to humans, so no need for pesticides. (Besides, most don't work on stinkbugs. They'll get knocked out for an hour or two, then perk up again, apparently totally fine). Or try Johanna Schneller's stinkbug-disposal method: Squish the bug in a wad of tissue* (don't open your hand!), then swiftly flush it down the toilet.
A note to our readers: An earlier version of this story recommended squishing the bugs in paper towel and flushing them. It has been brought to our attention that this is a bad idea and could mess with your plumbing - stick with toilet paper!
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