Stench descends on Ontario
Stinkbugs are coming for our gardens, crops and homes
Johanna Schneller, author of Metro’s What I’m Watching column, has been watching a horror show play out in her own home.
The super villains? They’re stinkers. More precisely, they’re brown marmorated stinkbugs, an invasive species and a growing menace across Ontario.
For the past few weeks, large, slow-moving, flying insects, have been showing up by twos and threes in Schneller’s third-floor home office in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood.
She didn’t think much of it. Until she squished one.
“They emit this really disgusting smell, like rotten leaves. It’s pungent, it lingers in the air,” Schneller said. “It’s like nature invented this bug to taunt us.”
Well, nature never intended for these bugs to be here. They hitchhiked here, likely from their native China, Korea or Japan, and, finding themselves in an environment with no natural predators, staged a takeover.
Measuring a little over a centimetre, pretty big for a bug, their bodies are brownish and shieldshaped, with distinctive white triangles along the edges.
Their two superpowers are their stink and their ability to eat almost anything, more than 200 kinds of plants, said Tara Gariepy, an entomologist with Agriculture and Agri-food Canada who is researching ways to get the smelly pest under control.
In fact, government agencies are monitoring the bugs in preparation for a biological control project. For the past five years, they’ve been studying whether it’s a good idea to fight back against stinkbugs by unleashing tiny wasps, imported from Asia, that reproduce by hijacking stinkbug eggs. Gariepy said they’re waiting for some project funding to come in before they move forward with the plan.
Asian stinkbugs are in an elite category of pests. They love urban trees and ornamental plants, making them a nuisance in the city, but they’re also a threat to a huge variety of agricultural products.
Known by its initials, BMSB, the insect first showed up in Hamilton, Ont., in 2010 and has been spreading ever since, Gariepy said.
“We’re seeing an expansion in (their) geographic area. They (range) from Windsor to Ottawa, sporadically,” she said. “We’re starting to see more and more reports in Toronto.”
Unlike in the United States, where the interloper has devastated apple orchards, stinkbugs haven’t done significant damage to crops in Canada, she added — but they’re closing in on the Niagara region, where they could threaten fruit trees.
Stinkbugs love attics and drafty older homes with cracks they can get into, Gariepy said.
Schneller feared there might be a “hideous nest” somewhere in her house, but that’s unlikely:
Stinkbugs lie low indoors to stay warm for the winter, but don’t reproduce there, Gariepy said.
In the spring, they start getting active again and looking for a way out. Then, if you have one, they’ll head straight to your garden and mow down almost everything in sight.
Gariepy looked at a picture of a specimen from Schneller’s windowsill and confirmed it: White triangles. Definitely BMSB, not a harmless, local look-alike.
If you think you have them, too, you should contact the province at firstname.lastname@example.org, Gariepy said.
Stinkbugs have been spotted in older homes in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood. Experts say the bugs love attics and homes with cracks they can get into.