By Preston Knight -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Stink bugs are about as flattering as you might expect.
Disregarding the characteristic from which their name derives, the bugs are equal parts elusive, persistent and annoying. But, who are we kidding -- most of all, they smell, emitting a stink, a la skunks, as a defense mechanism.
"If I catch one I put it inside a paper towel, go outside and kill it," said Sharon Smith, office manager for Barrett Pest and Termite Service in Stephens City. "I put the paper towel in an outside trash can. It's an awful odor."
The pests have become a big problem for the area in each of the past five years, particularly the last two, she said. Some days, Smith's business will receive as many as 20 calls about them.
This speaks more to the other qualities of the bugs than the stench they excrete when they feel threatened or are killed. Pest control experts said services they provide only go so far to reduce the bug population -- and they never eliminate it.
"They're impossible," said Harriet Harris, who owns Best Exterminating Services Inc. in Front Royal.
Stink bugs are flying insects that feed on vegetation, laying their eggs underneath leaves and plants, Smith said. During the winter, they don't die off, she said, but instead stay in a house's walls or in attics.
"They're spending vacation in your home," Harris said.
The bugs get into a house through cracks, crevices, chimneys and doorways, Smith said. When temperatures are warm during the day -- which is still the case, for the most part, now -- they come out.
"They are attracted to light," she said. "Once inside, you'll hear them buzzing around. They will fly around, bang around in a lamp shade. ... You will be trying to eat dinner or watch a football game, and they are there. They're just a nuisance."
The bugs are about the size of a horse fly and are identifiable by what looks like an armored shield on their backs. That leads to the crunching sound when you step on one, but don't forget what else comes with it.
"It's a really foul odor," Smith said.
Harris said she has them at her business now and has found them in her car, which the bugs entered through doorjambs. Warren County has been hit "heavily" by the pests, she said.
Harris traces their history in the area to four or five years ago, when they arrived from southwestern Virginia. Three years ago, she had just a single call from one concerned homeowner. That number has grown ever since.
The only natural predator to the stink bug, Harris said, is the parasitic wasp. Best Exterminating uses an accelerant as part of the mixture of chemicals sprayed to fight the bugs, but one problem is that there have to be different formulas for inside and outside a person's house, she said.
"I just can't stop them," Harris said. "They're very hard to control."
She recommends that homeowners do their part in the process -- keeping windows and doors sealed and caulking any place where a bug can get in. The presence of stink bugs in walls can attract other insects, Harris added.
The bugs don't bite or sting, but that may not be much consolation for homeowners as the insects continue to invade the area.
"They're multiplying," Smith said. "When you don't try to help decrease the population by having some sort of treatment, the population is going to get bigger and bigger."
And that, of course, stinks.