By Deanna Tolliver
Stink bugs! Specifically, brown marmorated stink bugs. Have you seen them in your RV? They’re more common in the eastern U.S. but are rapidly heading west, in part because they’re hitching rides in our RVs!
They are not just ugly and smell bad: They present a potentially devastating threat to North American agriculture.
RV Travel editor Chuck Woodbury is very familiar with the bugs. “We were told about them last fall in a Pennsylvania RV park.” “It’s good you’re getting out now, before the stink bugs arrive,” a camper advised. Woodbury said he had never seen one before. Since then? “They have followed us everywhere. We killed six the other day, in early March, in our park in Texas. I’ve wondered if they’re here in Texas or if we brought them along with us.”
TAKE POLL BELOW: Have you seen these stink bugs?
First seen in Pennsylvania, the docile bugs arrived on cargo ships from Japan in the mid to late 1990s. Their spread across the United States has been carefully documented by the EPA and other agricultural sectors of the government. They made it across the country to Oregon by 2004 and in California by 2006. Besides our RVs, they’re hitching rides in furniture and other cargo trucks. Most new infestations are found in urban areas, but the bugs quickly spread to the countryside and threaten many different crops.
The bugs don’t like cold weather so they seek warmer places to overwinter. They can crawl through tiny cracks in houses and RVs, and remain immobile for several months. There are reports of infestations of more than 26,000 of them in just one house! With warmer weather, they wake up looking for food and mates.
“I saw one crawl into a space near my front fender,” said Woodbury. “There was no way I could reach him.”
Let’s say you visited the northeast in your RV last fall and then headed for warmer climes, say Texas, for the winter. If stink bugs were hiding in your RV, you may not know it until the furnace came on or the outside temperatures warmed up and woke them up.
HOW YOU DO DEAL WITH THE PESTS IN YOUR RV? You kill them. But it isn’t pleasant. They’re called stink bugs for a reason. If you squash one with a fly swatter, you won’t forget that noxious odor. For heavy infestations, the EPA recommends a handheld vacuum dedicated to sucking them up. Why? Because their stinky odor remains in the vacuum bag for a very long time and you don’t want to smell that every time you vacuum the rug.
And they don’t just stink. They do harm! Even just one stink bug per three grape clusters during grape pressing can taint the flavor and aroma of wine!
If you just see a few every day or so, try catching them in a container with a lid and then dropping them in a jar with soap water, where they will drown…eventually. These are tough bugs. It takes two days in a freezer for one to die. Chuck Woodbury says he zaps them with his electric fly swatter. “There’s no mess that way,” he said.
Unfortunately, no commercially available fumigants will totally eliminate them, so “bug bombing” your rig isn’t recommended.
The EPA recommends that homeowners fill every crack they can to prevent infestations. That isn’t easy in an RV. There are many possible entry points, such as under slide-outs, plumbing entry points, and the occasional open door.
They may be tough, but they don’t bite. They’re just prehistoric-looking creepy things that can get in your clothes and your cupboards. Last fall I took a pair of jeans from a drawer, pulled them on, and immediately felt a large “something” crawling on one of my legs. I crushed it from the outside of the jeans. It was a stink bug! Yuk! I now thoroughly shake ALL clothes before I put them on. Hikers have reported opening their backpacks and finding hundreds inside.
The bugs are quickly becoming a worldwide problem. Most recently, thousands of car exports from Japan to New Zealand have been halted in Auckland Harbor because stink bugs were found in some of the cars. New Zealand stopped manufacturing cars in the late ‘90s so these imports are critical to its transportation needs. The cars can’t be fumigated because a chemical in the fumigant discolors car upholstery. Halting the car imports has already impacted thousands of Kiwis, from the dock workers to the car import companies to the people awaiting a car. However, the impact if these bugs burrowed into New Zealand agriculture would cause billions of dollars of damage.
In the U.S., how the spread of stink bugs may affect agriculture is at the forefront of research. They’ve been found in 44 states and four Canadian provinces. The crops most at risk include apples, nectarines, peaches, sweet corn and tomatoes. Sweet corn and soybeans are considered host crops, meaning they contribute to the spread to specialty crops (like those listed above).
As RVers, we may be guilty of transporting these bugs but all we can do is eliminate the ones we find in our rigs. You just might keep a clothespin handy for your nose before you do.