Stink bugs in Ontario: How to recognize them and what to do if you find one

Watch video above: Stink bugs could weak havoc on Ontario produce. Laura Zilke reports. 

TORONTO – The agricultural branch of the Ontario government is on the lookout for a small, 18-millimetre long bug that stinks like rotten coriander.

The brown marmorated stink bug originates from the Beijing area of China and is believed to have immigrated to North America in the mid-1990s.

The small insects can wreak havoc on plants and crops like tree fruit, grapes, sweet corn, tomatoes, soy beans or peppers.

“So those are crops that are really of high value in Ontario,” Hannah Fraser, a program lead with the Ministry of Agriculture said in an interview Tuesday. “Those crops are valued at over $450 million at the farm gate. So there’s a big potential loss to growers from direct damage from the pest.”

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Fraser noted the slightest damage on many Ontario crops can keep them from being sold.

The stink bug is not an “issue” in Ontario yet, Fraser said, but without management it could severely impair Ontario’s crop producers.

Steve Paiero, an entomologist at the University of Guelph, said the small bugs are used to our Canadian winters and don’t have any natural predators in the area.

“They’re able to survive in the Canadian winter,” he said. “Now that it’s here – it’s unlikely we’ll ever get rid of it.”

Where have they been found so far?

There haven’t been any confirmed crop infestations in Ontario, however Fraser warns there’s been over 100 confirmed cases in homes across southern Ontario including London, Windsor, Kincardine, Stoney Creek, Niagara, Fort Erie, Toronto, Hamilton and Burlington.

In less-populated areas, the bugs seek warmth during the winter under the bark of trees. But in populated areas like the GTA, they find shelter in your home. Once spring arrives, they venture back outside to feast on crops and plants.

“So the bugs are going to be on the move,” Fraser said. “They’ll be leaving soon and probably within the next month or two, they will go outside and feed on whatever is available.”

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They won’t be feeding on your home however. Instead, they use it for warmth before venturing back outside to enjoy their simple life of eating and mating.

How to spot a brown marmorated stink bug

The agricultural ministry is hoping to track the stink bug to try and find out where they are thriving and what crops they might be feeding on.

But because the bugs venture into people’s homes, the government agency is asking Ontarians to try and spot them. If they do, try and capture it, take a photo and send it to the ministry.

The stink bug is between 13 and 18 millimetres long and has some noticeable features.

“The two features that I would look for are the two white bands that are present on each antennae and that’s obvious on adults and the [young] of this insect,” Fraser said. “Also the wing covers… don’t quite cover the abdomen.”

Fraser notes there are other species of stink bug but they do not have the bands on each antennae.

And as the name suggests, they produce an odour.

“Stink bugs do produce odours that—in the case of this stink bug—it’s a defensive mechanism, and it has been described, and I would describe it, as smelling a lot like coriander, perhaps coriander that’s gone a bit off,” Fraser said. “The smell would stay on your fingers for awhile, until you wash it off. It is pungent.”

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The first confirmed North American finding of a brown marmorated stink bug was in Pennsylvania in 1996. Since then, it’s spread to 27 states as well as Ontario and Quebec.

With files from Laura Zilke

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