Get ready for the return of stink bugs

Maybe you’ve already seen one lurking near your computer or clinging to the wall of your bedroom. Stink bugs are likely to come roaring back in 2013.

“We’re really expecting a bigger crop of stink bugs in the region coming into 2013,” says Mike Raupp, entomologist at the University of Maryland.

The D.C. area caught a reprieve from the annoying pests last year because of a stink bug population collapse in late 2011.

“What this meant is there were far fewer stink bugs coming out in 2012,” Raupp says.

“Our breakout year was 2010 when we had enormous populations of stink bugs throughout the region … 2013 may look a lot more like 2010.”

The shield-shaped brown bugs, about the size of pumpkin seeds, stink when crushed. They are invaders from Asia, first found in Allentown, Pa. in the mid-1990s. They’ve spread out across the U.S. and can be found coast-to-coast in almost all the lower 48 states.

Unfortunately, they’ve found very comfortable living conditions in Maryland, Virginia and D.C.

“We’re right at the epicenter, we’re at the place where there are more stink bugs than anywhere on the planet, as far as we can tell, right now,” says Raupp, who traps stink bugs around the region for study.

“The stink bugs have just been able to increase dramatically because we have a very favorable climate. We’ve got many kinds of plants they can eat,” he says.

Back in Asia, stink bugs have natural predators that suppress their population. Without any such population check, the bugs are thriving.

They’re not just annoying to homeowners. They can cause considerable damage to fruit trees and other crops, and growers throughout Maryland and Virginia have been challenged by the stink bugs.

Raupp says teams of researchers across the country are working on a variety of methods to curb the stink bug population.

Scientists have even imported parasitic wasps known to attack the eggs of stink bugs. The wasps remain in quarantine.

“We’ve got our fingers crossed that in a couple of years we can release those wasps and that they’ll help reduce the populations,” Raupp says.

Chemicals and insecticides also are being developed to help growers protect crops.

Just this week, the University of Maryland scientist noticed a stink bug stuck on his computer screen.

“Homeowners should be on the lookout,” Raupp says.

“On warm days in February and March they’re going to become active. Get out your vacuum, vacuum them up,” Raupp says.

Now that the annoying pests have taken up residence in the region, will people ever get rid of the little buggers?

“We’ll find better ways to manage these particular stink bugs, but I’m also realistic — these stink bugs are absolutely here to stay.”