Mulder (@Mulder_Cat) and others were recently talking about stink bugs. We have a lot of bugs in our old house, but none that I would really nickname “stinky”, maybe “crawly”. I then heard a piece on NPR about the stink bug invasion, and decided to check this out.
The brown marmorated stink bug appeared in Pennsylvania in 1998 probably as stowaways on import goods from China. Stink bugs, part of the family Pentatomidae, are found extensively on the East Coast, and have been migrating to the Midwest, and have been found as far as Oregon. (PennState Exension). They have no natural predators in the US, so these true bugs have been multiplying. Normally in the US they only have one growing season, but 2010 temperatures have allowed two generations in some areas. They infiltrate homes and buildings through tiny cracks (Wikipedia). They are difficult to get rid of and vacuuming seems the best way to remove them. It is suggested to caulk every crack possible to prevent them getting into our homes.
Stink bugs can do a lot of damage to fruit, corn and soy beans. When they attack fruit, they inject a bit of saliva under the skin which causes dimpling and rotting. Damage to the commodity crops such as corn or soybeans does not have as severe of an impact (Wikipedia).
However, the real problem for humans and anipals is the bugs’ odor. Stink bugs spray a powerful combination of chemicals when startled. There are two main chemical components that create this stench, trans-2-decenal and trans-2-Octenal. (Wikipedia). The compounds are in the class known as aldehydes which can have an odor whether pleasant or unpleasant.
Let’s look at how stink bugs relate to anipals
Cats and dogs, being curious creatures, will find these creepy things and mess with them. The question then becomes, are stink bugs harmful to anipals? Much of the information on the Internet is anecdotal found on board postings. According to justanswer.com, “Most (stink bugs) are not poisonous but can cause oral irritation if ingested. The cats drool when irritated. If there is no vomiting, drooling or loss of appetite, the cats should be OK.” Articles such as the Washington Post column by Dr. Michael J Raupp, Professor of Entomology, University of Maryland, state that pets either stay away after one encounter, happily chew them up, get stomach distress or foam at the mouth for a bit. One cat would paw the bug, smell and shake its paw, mess with the bug again, smell, paw, repeat, whch sounds like a learning curve problem to me. If sprayed in the face, you can try to wash it off, but the smell may be unbearable for a bit. In a similar manner, mouth foaming should go away once the chemicals are washed away.
Mom looked up the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets) for the responsible chemicals, and found they are classified as an irritant. Since they are irritants, it makes sense that the symptoms vary according to sensitivity. So for some, they get stomach upset while others can munch away to their heart’s content.
Some folks think the stinky odor reminds them of cilantro. According to the Monell Chemical Senses Center, the main sensory chemical in cilantro is 2-dodecenal, very closely related to the two compounds found in stink bug stench. Cilantro is one of those herbs that either you love or you hate. Some people salivate at the mere mention of fresh salsa with lots of cilantro. Others call it nasty, evil, vile, rancid, etc. It appears that like/dislike of cilantro is a genetic trait, with only about 40% of the population liking it (ACS).
Where does this leave us? Sounds like stink bugs are here to stay. Pets need to stay away from them, but there are no recorded cases that I found of serious health hazards. Finally, all speculation on my part, maybe reactions to stink bugs are genetically based on the similarities of the chemical structure in stink bugs and cilantro. Hmm, that last statement sounds like a thesis research topic to me!
Brown marmorated stink bug photo from Froestry
cilantro photo provided by @brutusthedane