Halyomorpha halys

stink bugIn PA we have a state insect, the eponymous Photuris pennsylvanica,  more popularly known as the firefly.  In some parts of the state (like where I grew up) people call them lightning bugs instead. I spent many summer evenings marveling at the lighted fairy landscape they made of the back yard.  My sisters and I would chase them down, following their trail in the air as the flashing, yellow-green beacon on the tip of their abdomen would always, eventually, give them away. After  a stretch of years where the population was down, and summer evenings dull and empty, they seem to have staged a comeback of late and again light up the nights for my children to chase in their turn. I am glad about this.

There’s a new contender on the scene for an unofficial state insect with the magnificent name of Halyomorpha halys, a.k.a. the (Brown Marmorated) Stink Bug. Nobody is going to be chasing them for pleasure. Like lightning bugs, stink bugs come out when the weather gets warm. Like fireflies, they bring a sensory dimension to communing with nature. Only instead of a pleasing flash of light, stink bugs emit a strong smell that some liken to cilantro. Especially when crushed (I have smashed my share). But believe me, they are not an ingredient you want in your guacamole.

The old adage, if you see a cockroach on the counter there are millions more in the walls, holds true for stink bugs, too. When the temperature plummets in fall they find their way into your house, slipping in through cracks too small to see and take up residence anywhere narrow and dark. I’ve found them rolled up in my socks, on the underside of furniture, inside books covers, clustered behind pictures hanging on the wall.  Here they stay until spring, in a semi-dream state, although occasionally an early-riser will emerge during the winter. I’ll often hear the interloper before I see it, betrayed by the loud click as its wings snap open like a switch blade, just before launching into ponderous flight. The good news is they are slow moving, slow flying even, easily captured and either flushed or deposited outside to freeze. The bad news is there are so many of them, there’s no end in sight. And with no natural predators, they have become a real agricultural nuisance, decimating fruit and vegetable crops left and right.

There’s a poem by Lucille Clifton inspired by a report that the cockroach population was in decline. Clifton imagines this supposed good news is actually “the beginning of the end of the world” and describes “the morning the roaches/ walked into the kitchen/ bold with they bad selves” before they all march away.  Forever. I think of that line every time a bold, bad stink bug emerges, insolently perching on my pillow, brazenly marching up the wall, or insolently flying across the room.  Except I know these guys are not leaving anytime soon. They are here to stay. Better get used to the scent of cilantro.


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