Thursday, October 7, 2010

Do stink bugs stink?


Does the name “stink bug” have it all wrong?

I’ve wondered about that recently. It all started when I was “soaping” brown marmorated stink bugs in a tall plastic jar containing a couple of inches of water and a squirt of dishwashing liquid, a.k.a. soap. As the stink bugs dropped or flew into the suds, a fragrance wafted up.

I the eternal optimist joyfully assumed the fragrance was that of the soap, which is described on the label of the container as “citrus burst,” not, I hasten to point out, “burst citrus,” which might indicate a less than wholesome smell.

And today I was merrily “soaping” stink bugs again—say 20 on the inside of our front storm door and 125 on the outside. From time to time a target would miss the mouth of the jar and fall or fly to the concrete porch and decide to scamper to safety. I had other ideas and decided to “take out” a few speedy NASCAR types with the sole of my garden shoes.

That’s when I suddenly realized that the odor of “stink bugs”—often described as like that of “dirty socks”—was, well, the fragrance I had been smelling while “soaping” the critters. To confirm my finding, I knelt and sniffed, my nose within a millimeter of a squished corpse.

Yes, the odor really was the fragrance I had experienced. “Stink bugs” really are “citrus burst bugs,” at least according to my smeller.

Bob has finally flipped, you may be thinking. Have I? There’s only one way to tell for sure—do a smell test on a brown marmorated stink bug.

I hasten to assist this citizen-scientist experiment by suggesting a procedure: Rip one square from the nearest roll of toilet paper and take the square and a sandwich-size baggie on a hunt for a brown marmorated stink bug. When you find a bug, gently catch it with the square of paper. Quickly and carefully fold the paper around the bug and insert the gift package into the baggie. From the outside of the baggie, squish the stink bug with your fingers until you feel a terminal crunch or see a terminal ooze.

Yuck! Eewwww! Disgusting! Yes, I know, but, really, get hold of yourself and do it. This is science at its most basic. Besides, the paper and the baggie will protect you from the mess inside.

Once you know the bug is Code Blue and no nurses or physicians are running to assist, carefully open the baggie and take a whiff—or two.

Ok, what do you think?

Is what you smell closer to the odor of “dirty socks”? Or closer to the fragrance of “citrus burst”?

Or do you have another descriptive word or phrase—one that you feel comfortable posting on the Grow It Eat It blog?

Squish away. Sniff away. And do post your Comment, please.

Maybe our research findings will be the basis of a whole new movement: Friends of the Brown Marmorated Citrus Burst Bug—or perhaps an even more “fragrant” name that you suggest.

57 comments:

  1. I've not crushed them, but in sweeping them into my hand, I have noticed a cilantro-like smell left over afterward. Not bad!

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    1. Cilantro is exactly what they smell like

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    2. Stink bugs ruined cilantro for me

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    3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  2. They stink alright, We got one stuck in the laundry and when the cycle finished....you can imagine...

    I have my website for stinkbugs,
    www.stinkbugwatch.com
    will post your article.
    Cheers

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  3. Geoffrey: Hey, I think there is a strong resemblance between the fragrance of cilantro and the stink of the bug. I suppose our difference in reactions comes from our presuppositions--the bug smells bad, cilantro smells good.

    LinkMosaic: Please feel free to post my article on your stink-bug website. Did you read the paragraph in the Washington Post article, which I also posted on this blog a week or two ago, which mentioned the USDA is experimenting with a natural predator of the BMSB--a miniature wasp from East Asia? Maybe there's a story there for you to develop for your website.

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  4. We purchased diatomaceous earth from a local farm supply store. It is composed of finely ground diatoms (google it- all natural!) and conducted a few of our own experiments. We sprinkled a big tablespoon into the reservoir of our bagless vaccuum and sucked those stinkers up- within minutes they were all on their backs- the d.e. acts like shards of glass to their little joints- once it gets in there their legs and wings don't work anymore. The 2nd awesome thing about d.e. Is that it acts as a desiccant - binding to the lipid layer on their exoskeleton and enabling it to dry out- so they dehydrate! It works on anything with an exoskeleton- but is completely harmless to those of us without :)

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    1. D.e. is not completely harmless. One should use with caution and wear protection when using. Those little "shards of glass" as you put it can get in your lungs and eyes. I would not use it indoors. D.e. also works great if you have a problem with Japanese Beatles.

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  5. I have crushed a few and still detect no odor - maybe just lucky so far.

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  6. Kristin: Interesting experiment. I guess we can conclude that D.E. for BMSBs means "dead end," or something like that.

    Kathy: You nose must be about as sensitive as mine. :-) But keep crushing the BMSBs. Maybe you'll strike a really fragrant one soon.

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  7. I agree with the cilantro - in fact, I'm a little turned off to cilantro this year because of it! Have also heard that toddlers will chew on them because they're not offensive unless you know what they are.

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  8. I agree, Bob. They don't stink. They smell to me too like a curious mix of cilantro and citrus.

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  9. Amazing. Three readers posting Comments think that crushed stink bugs smell like cilantro with a touch, perhaps, of citrus. Let's rename the critter then. How does "Citlantro Bug" sound to you? Sound great to me, but I suppose we have no real chance of renaming the invader. Cold weather will keep most of the citlantro bugs in hiding in warm places, such as our attics and garages, but we'll see them from time to time this winter as warm days encourage them to find more hospitable resting places--and we'll probably be challenged by them again in Garden Year 2011. I can hardly wait. Thank you for participating with your Comments.

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  10. Bob, I found your post by doing a browser search of "stink bugs don't stink."

    I knew not to squash the brown stink bug I found on a house plant earlier tonight, so I used a wash rag to lift it off the plant. When I tried to flush the little critter, it found its way in a crevice between the toilet lid & seat, and I kept trying to grasp the bug with the rag. I noticed a strong smell and thought it was a cleaning product I'd used on the toilet. I finally realized after wrangling the bug back into the wash rag that the strong - but not stinky - smell was from the stink bug. Glad to know I don't have a defective smeller. :)

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  11. These critters are horrible! I hate them with a venegence. They will destroy your walls with their secretions. Please find something to get of them!

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  12. You're now a member of a great club called the stink bug haters. My wife is a charter member. Scientists all over the country are trying to figure out what to do about them, so I suppose from time to time we'll be getting reports. I'm concerned about my veggie crops next summer. I don't want a repeat of this summer's major losses--tomatoes, raspberries, blackberries, green beans. Yes, we need a solution or two or three.

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  13. Here in Silver Spring, MD ... our bugs definitely without a doubt smell like cilantro. I wonder if their smell is related to their diet? You are what you eat?

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  14. Anonymous: We don't grow cilantro here at Meadow Glenn, so our stink bugs don't get their cilantro-like smell from eating it. They sip plenty of food from tomatoes, raspberries, and blackberries, and I've yet to smell one with a tomato or brambles smell. I think they must just manufacture the smell in their digestive process--whatever they eat. Too bad cilantro is getting a bad name from this smelly bug.

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  15. I find the smell of stink bugs completely inoffensive - at least so far. Time will tell if I must conclude that the haters are blinded to reality, or if I've only been lucky not to experience the full malodorous effect. Some folks still think a kid can catch a cold from not wearing a jacket on a cold day - just one of many persistent misunderstandings due to what something is called.

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  16. Some possible insight to the question of cilantro versus stinky scent of the stink bug: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/14/dining/14curious.html?_r=1&partner=rss&emc=rss

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  17. Thanks for sharing the link to the NYTimes article, Sandra. I think it's fascination. The theory is that we eat cilantro because we've gotten used to its "smell" and thus consider it OK. The extended argument might be that we'll get used to the stink bug "smell" too and eventually consider it OK. We might hasten that change if we renamed the stink bug. What do you think about "Fragrance Bug"? Or we might go with "Cilantrus Bug," combining the "fragrances" of cilantro and citrus, as suggested by some earlier comments. Again, thanks for sharing.

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  18. Bob, I'm glad I read your blog. Today I noticed a stink bug on my shoe as I was lacing it up. I was then hit with a strong but pleasant air-freshener-type smell. I knew the smell had to originate from the stink bug, but I had always heard such horror stories about their odor. My initial research left me even more confused -- most sites describe the heinous skunk-type foul odor. I was wondering whether I managed to spook the sole perfume-inducing stink bug in the universe. Now I know I wasn't going crazy. Bryan.

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    1. they do smell like skunk

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  19. I never smelled a stink bug but I heard there are different kinds and that they live in different states depending on environment. I heard someone say that one odor they experienced from a certain stink bug smelled like garbage. Another said they smelled like old pine, rubber and rotten cheese. Maybe the common brown ones don't really stink but other kinds are worse considering there are over two hundred species of stink bugs just in North America.

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    1. Strange as it may sound, but I think the smell of this insect I got was a nice fragrance, until I go too close, it becomes too strong and abit stinky. The insect multiplies in numbers in one particular plant (I forgot what plant it was, it was about 30years ago)quite quickly until I can't stand it anymore, I killed everyone of it I can get to. But they still leave behind some eggs on the leaves that I can't see. So, I still have to watch out for it. Finally it's all gone after I killed all the young stinky babies as well. Actually at first I didn't even know the name of it was stink bugs!

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  20. Just want to share, last night in my room i heard a tik and scratch sound coming just above my bed (where the window is)as i checked it there was no one or nothing at all..so i got back to bed and then few minutes later i smell something citrus in my hair, i got goosebumps knowing its not my shampoo/conditioner or any fragrance i hve in the room. so then i sprayed some cologne to top the smell,as i got back to bed again i saw a bug crawling in my pillow, i never thought that it would be the bug who sprayed/ released the citrus smell until ive read these posts...or was it really the bug? (by the way the bug i saw was black in color, im not sure really, cause i crushed it right a way using a tissue soak with alcohol)

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  21. Anonymous: If your bug was black, it probably wasn't a stink bug. Take a look at the stink-bug photos, and you'll see it is brownish and shield shaped. I suspect the black bug you caught was a beetle that is common this time of the year.

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  22. I caught two green ones in my hand and took them out of the house to the yard. After releasing them my hand smelled like a mixture of celery, wheatgrass and cucumber melon. My wife said it smelled like apricot soap. Ha!

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  23. One got on my shoulder last night and without knowing it was there, I crushed it. Immediately everyone in the SUV with me wanted to know why the SUV smelled like spoiled milk/rotten cheese. I had just washed my hand so I didn't think to smell it until the smell persisted. We nearly fell over when I did! How disgusting it smelled! No wonder birds leave them alone!

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  24. I like your description--rotten dairy products. Maybe there are commercial possibilities here--but, certainly, I jest! I'm getting used to the smell because I pick raspberries and blackberries with my right hand and squish BMSBs with my left. Actually I'm getting used to the odor--but note I still call it odor and not fragrance or aroma!

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  25. I recall from my childhood that they smell like banannas. Ive been told I have an uncanny sense of smell. I believe the tv smells like Indian food- turns out the water pipes are on adjacent wall and we've noticed leaking sound, likely mold/mildew within the wall- thus the source of smell. But of course, as with the banana-laden stink bug smell- that was at least 30 years ago when my brother & I distinctly commented they were banana bugs even though our dad corrected us by identifying them as stink bugs. Nonetheless, we had to ride all the way to FL from NC in the back of closed pickup camper cab with the aroma of the bug for 12 hours. I'd remember that smell anywhere. I brought this up bc I spotted one a minute ago on my 5th story balcony & was curious.

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  26. I feel they smell like jollyranchers. particularly the green apple ones.

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    1. This is exactly what they smell like. I even had my sister smell it. It was the weirdest thing

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  27. So, this is going to sound really funny... I just killed a brown one in my house. I didn't know what it was, so I just approached and attacked like I would any bug - trapped it and squished it between a couple of squares of toilet paper. I opened the mess back up to make sure I'd gotten him good and dead. That's when I noticed a) these things have a red fluid inside them that looks a LOT like human blood - do they have blood? and b) it smelled kinda salty and nice - the best way I can describe it is that it smelled like Umami.

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  28. I just came into contact with a cilantro citrus bug or whatever...it freaked me out..I smelled something strong for some reason I started flailing my arms around and tugging my shirt to get it off...it just smelled wrong..few minutes later a big bug all crunched open came walking all crippled across my carpet..I took a bath and still I got the jitters

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  29. Bob so I was sleeping next to my boyfriend. It was night time and very dark in the room. I was just about to fall asleep when I rolled over closer to him and smelt the most amazing smell! I immediately thought 'Oh gee! This new laundry detergent we bought sure smells good.' I started feeling around and tried to sniff out which particular piece of linen the fragrance was coming from. It smelt like strong cinnamon and pine. Almost gave me that holiday vibe. My search was then interrupted when my boyfriend suddenly got startled and woke up. He quickly said "Find it!" And I replied "Find what babe?"
    THE STINKBUG!!
    I was so shocked when I found out what I was smelling!

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  30. After reading some of these comments I don't feel so - so - crazy about my stink bug experience. I even made a page about it. If anyone wants to see I put the pictures and info here: http://www.themagicfactory.co.uk/stinkbug-art.htm

    I have added a link to this post on that page so others can see the comments here too. They're fun!

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  31. I smell a cucumber type smell when I squash the buggers.

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  32. The stink bug's stink is of an aldehyde nature. Much like the cilantro plant, some people are genetically predisposed to smell a citrusy note, while others smell the more chemical note. Depends on your ancestors' sense of smell, and what associations you have with said smell. Stinkbugs also give off odors from the foods they consume, so if you know where a bug has been, you can roughly guess what it eats. Stinkbugs eat plants and scavenge much like flies do.

    MODERATOR: PLEASE DELETE MY PREVIOUS POST AND KEEP THIS ACCURATE ONE. THANK YOU.

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  33. I just had my first experience with a stink bug and wow, that is a weird smell. He had been hanging around near the ceiling and I waited to deal with him until I could do it gently - hoping to avoid a smell. Unfortunately he flew down low enough for my cat to reach him and while she didn't hurt him, she definitely scared him. Before I realized she was near him, I said out loud "what is that smell?" My living room was filled with a scent that was sort of like heated plastic and herbs. Definite chemical notes but herbaceous as well. Tupperware and cilantro maybe? Anyway, I removed him and threw him outside but my hands still smells like it despite washing them twice. I even used paper towels to move him but it still got on me. Icky scent.

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  34. My kitten just got sprayed by a brown marmorated stink bug. He tried to eat it as it crawled along the sliding glass door track. He's still trying to wash the scent off his face. When I picked him up, he smelled strongly of citronella or "citrus burst" as the OP described. I had no idea where the smell had come from until I went poking along the doorway and saw the bug hunkered down in the track. I helped him outside. :) I doubt my cat will try to nibble on them in the future.

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  35. Last year I has a stink bug tangled in my hair. As I struggled to unwind my locks from its spindly legs it.... farted on me. It released its smelly liquid all over my head, and I think I even heard him chuckle about it. I would describe the smell as dirty socks boiled in used motor oil. I washed my hair three times in a row, but the smell remained for a week.

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  36. I think they smell like ozonated olive oil. I used to use this oil a few years ago and thought the smell was quite odd, but as I used it more and more, I became quite accustomed to it and grew to like it. I am not sure if I could pass a blind test and tell the difference between the stink bug odor and the ozonated olive oil!

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  37. It's funny how there are so many different smells associated with these bugs. I have probably seen hundreds of them outside my home recently and have been squishing them left and right, but have yet to notice any smell. Maybe that's because I love the smell of both citrus and cilantro? I do vaguely remember a foul smell coming from stink bugs as a child though, so not sure why I can't seem to smell anything now. As I'm typing this, I'm looking at one that has apparently taken up residence at the highest part of the vaulted ceiling in my living room. I believe that it has gone into hibernation since it's been there for several days and I'm not quite sure how to go about getting it down.

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  38. The New York Times article linked above was very interesting and the correlation between people smelling cilantro, coriander, and soap is fascinating. But on a side note, my mom and I can both smell ants. People always think we're crazy. I am curious, is anyone else able to smell ants? If so, what do they smell like to you?

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  39. When I was a child I'd play with ladybugs out at recess which also secrete a oder. To me the stinkbugs smell of a much more pungent version of the lady bugs. Which to me kinda smelled a mixture of pee that's been sitting in a toilet for a week and some sort of earthy green smell. I wouldn't say the smell is horrendous but I wouldn't say it smells anywhere near good. Enough to make me scrunch my nose and cough a little. I love the smell of citrus and cilantro and wouldn't compare it to that at all...

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  40. Do they have blood in them when you kill them?

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  41. Wow, yup. I just had a similar experience to the poster's, and actually found this page after googling "do stink bugs smell like green apple? " The answer is yes, one hundred percent. I don't see the cilantro connection though. For me, it's one hundred percent green jolly rancher.

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  42. I just squashed one right in front of my cats face! (Sorry kitty...bug reflex). Anywho I thought it smelled like wood stain maybe a little cilantro like too. (Kitty did not like the smell) I didn't really mind the smell and it dissipated quickly. However I remember killing a bug that looked just like it as a kid and it smelling like skunk! The ones I have now fly (super terrifying!) and I don't remember the ones I saw as a kid flying.

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  43. Squashed one in my sleep last night thinking I was smacking a spider. It still smells horrible in my room. It smells like insulin to me. It is awful me.

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  44. I get these creeping into my house every summer for almost 5 years now. I always find them under my kitchen sink or by my front livingroom door. Always on their backs, but rarely dead. They look like a 1 inch long black beetle. They smell strongly like insulin. And I know that smell so well because my husband uses an insulin pump. I live in az and I've never seen brown ones. I really hate them because when I see one and have to pick it up, I always feel like I'm going to vomit.

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  45. I'm glad I found this site.. I have been experiencing an overly citrus smell coming from a closet that has an attic access. It is overbearing and I'm afraid to lift the cover for fear of having a waterfall of these creatures come down on me. I'm going to hire someone to spray DE up there! I've had the smell for about 3 months and tried everything to get rid of it. Gross!

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  46. I love the smell of stink bugs and even try to gently pick up my house guests with a tissue and redeposit them outside to save their little lives. Yet to determine the exact smell, all I can come up with is a saccharine-overly-sweet odor.

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  47. People around me complain about the Stinkbugs and how they smell like dirty socks. I don't understand, because I just smell a piney citrus smell. I am glad to know I am not the only one who thinks the smell is nice.

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  48. I found a stink bug in my red worm compost container, it let it's stink go and the worms went crazy. It killed a bunch of them. Whatever it is it is very toxic to the wormies.

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