But as it turned out, the bug had a taste for other legumes, such as soybeans. It migrates from kudzu in spring to soybean in July, reducing yields by about 20 percent for two years and costing farmers millions of dollars.
On top of that, the bugs are really annoying. “They’re a general nuisance,” Suiter said. “I was just driving home yesterday and had one in my vehicle. They fly very well. We’ve found it on the 40th floor of high rises. When we first found it in 2009, they covered 2,500 square miles in the area. Their known distribution as of last fall is 108,000 square miles.”
With kudzu bugs limited for now to a smaller area, brown marmorated stink bugs, which, like kudzu bugs, give off a foul bittersweet odor like rotten cilantro when threatened, get the lion’s share of attention from entomologists.
Tracy Leskey, a research entomologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said entomologists can’t stop stink bugs, but they can slow them down. The USDA research program and its academic partners received a $5.7 million grant, allowing them to watch the bugs’ every move.
So far they’ve learned that males emit a scent that attracts both sexes, a possible signal that they’ve found food or they want to mate. Entomologist want to use that to trap them, or “attract and kill,” as she put it.
Entomologists have found stink bugs in woods, in dead trees, under vegetation, “dispersed across the landscape,” Leskey said. “We have to think about a landscape-level solution.”
Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee weren’t what she had in mind, but they turned out to be a landscape solution. “There appears to be a reduction in the late-season population,” Leskey said.
Inkley, who vacuums the bugs up and collects them for science, counted only 3,000 in his attic this year, enough to make most people’s skin crawl. “I feel like I’m living in heaven, relatively speaking,” he said.
But with a mild winter blending into spring, stink bugs are returning. On a recent warm night, Inkley said he felt tiny legs crawling on his back. He knew right away what was up.
“Any warm day, they come crawling out,” he said.