How to kill stinkbugs like a wonk


Photo via Flickr user Mike Lewinski, used under a Creative Commons license.

It's spring, which means that brown marmorated stinkbugs are out and about and making a general nuisance of themselves again. Fortunately for you, a team of researchers at Virginia Tech recently concluded a two-year study of stinkbug eradication techniques and has found that a simple home-built method -- one weird trick! -- is both cheaper and more effective than several store-bought traps.

John Aignar and Thomas Kuhar enlisted the aid of 16 Virginia households experiencing significant stinkbug infestations in 2012 and 2013. Over a 11-week period in the spring of each year, each household tested four different stinkbug traps -- two commercial traps, a homemade trap involving a 2-liter soda bottle made into a funnel, and a homemade trap consisting of a baking sheet full of soapy water left out on a countertop.

All four traps operate under the same principle, using light to lure the bugs into the trap. And among the four, the pan of soapy water was the clear winner, killing 14 times as many stinkbugs as one of the store-bought traps. Best of all? Assuming you already own a lamp, a baking sheet and some dish detergent, the cost is essentially zero.

stink bug traps

The chart above shows the results from the 2012 season. While the Stube commercial trap performed admirably, it was still outshone by the water pan. The 2013 results show the same general distribution, although the Stube model was discontinued that year and was thus excluded from the analysis.

"Although this trap may not remove every stink bug from a building," the researchers wrote, "it will provide a homeowner with some relief from their stink bug infestations, as well as a sense of satisfaction from removing large numbers of the bugs from their home." The trap is so simple the researchers were able to fit a complete "how-to" in the 22-second video tutorial below.

While this technique works great at home, it won't scale well to the agricultural realm, where stinkbugs are responsible for millions of dollars' worth of crop damage annually. In 2010, for instance, mid-Atlantic apple growers lost upward of $37 million to the bug. Overall in the United States, roughly $40 billion of crops are susceptible to stinkbug losses. "We are only just beginning to realize the impact of this species because it has only recently spread to areas like the Pacific Northwest, with the tremendous acres of tree fruit production, and the high value specialty crops in California," co-author Kuhar wrote in an e-mail. 

The jury's still out on whether this year's harsh winter killed off more of the bugs than usual.

Christopher Ingraham is a data journalist focusing primarily on issues of politics, policy and economics. He previously worked at the Brookings Institution and the Pew Research Center.
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