Why do shield­bugs smell of marzi­pan?

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Our Wild World - Richard Jones

AThough they as­sume a heroic heraldic ti­tle in Bri­tain, shield­bugs are often called stinkbugs else­where in the world be­cause of their strik­ing scents. Most Bri­tish species use cam­ou­flage col­oration to hide from preda­tors, but should one be picked up in the beak of a bird, it will re­lease a se­ries of volatile, low-molec­u­lar-weight com­pounds from glands un­der its tho­rax. The re­sult­ing odour may be rem­i­nis­cent of an oily al­mond, yet the taste is bit­ter and acrid, prompt­ing the preda­tor to re­lease its catch.

The chem­i­cals are harm­less, but can re­sult in stain­ing. Han­dling the wound­wort shield­bug at a wildlife event to demon­strate the smell to chil­dren left my palm coloured brown for days.

Shield­bugs – here a green shield­bug on oak – prob­a­bly smell bet­ter than they taste.

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