Stink bugs are notorious for their foul-smelling defense mechanism, but many people wonder if they bite humans. The brown marmorated stink bug, for example, has become a significant agricultural pest in places like Oregon since its arrival in 2004, affecting fruit, vegetable, and grain crops. However, its threat to humans is another matter.
While stink bugs have mouthparts capable of piercing and sucking plant juices, their primary targets are leaves, stems, and reproductive structures like fruits and seeds. Despite their appearance, stink bugs tend to avoid interacting with humans and are not known for biting or causing harm directly. Nonetheless, it’s essential to handle them carefully and avoid crushing them due to their unpleasant odor.
Do Stink Bugs Bite?
Understanding Stink Bugs
Stink bugs, particularly the brown marmorated stink bug, are insects known for their distinctive shield-shaped bodies and unpleasant odor. They possess scent glands designed to release a foul smell when disturbed or threatened. These insects come in various species, with some marked by a yellow or red-eyed appearance.
Although they might appear intimidating, it’s important to know that stink bugs do not bite. They are not known to transmit diseases or cause physical harm to humans or pets. Instead, these insects emit a strong, unpleasant odor as a defense mechanism to scare off potential predators.
Differences Between Stink Bugs and Biting Insects
To help identify stink bugs and distinguish them from biting insects, consider the following characteristics:
- Shield-shaped body: Stink bugs have a distinctive shield-like shape, which is different from most biting insects.
- Antennae: Their long, straight antennae are a key visual feature.
- Odor: Stink bugs release a pungent smell as a defense mechanism, unlike biting insects that may bite or sting.
Some examples of popular biting insects include biting flies and mosquitoes. Comparing their features with stink bugs can help differentiate between them:
|Varies (usually not shield-shaped)
|Yes (from scent glands)
In conclusion, despite their intimidating appearance, stink bugs pose no harm through biting. Their primary defense mechanism relies on their unpleasant odor emitted from scent glands. By observing the key characteristics such as body shape, antennae, and smell, one can easily distinguish stink bugs from biting insects.
Stink Bug Infestations and Prevention
How Stink Bugs Invade Homes
Stink bugs, such as the brown marmorated stink bug, can become a nuisance for homeowners when they invade homes. They usually find their way in through:
- Cracks and gaps in windows
- Door frames
- Vents and crawl spaces
These entry points often become more accessible to stink bugs as the weather gets colder, and they seek shelter indoors.
To prevent stink bug infestations, homeowners can take several preventative measures, including:
- Sealing gaps and cracks with caulk or weather stripping
- Installing screens on windows, vents, and crawl spaces
- Regularly inspecting and maintaining the exterior of the home
By addressing these common entry points, homeowners can reduce the likelihood of stink bugs entering their homes.
Pest Control Measures
If stink bugs have already invaded a home, a few methods can help control the infestation:
- Vacuuming up individual stink bugs using a vacuum cleaner with a disposable bag
- Using natural pest control methods, such as introducing beneficial predators like the two-spotted stink bug
- Consulting a pest control professional or exterminator for more aggressive treatment options
|Pest Control Method
|Quick and easy
|Bag must be disposed
|Natural Pest Control
|May take longer
|Pest Control Professional
|Can be costly
Remember, stink bugs can damage ornamental plants and become a nuisance indoors, but taking preventative measures and using appropriate pest control methods can help keep these pests in check.
Stink Bugs and Their Impact on Agriculture
Damage to Crops
Stink bugs, particularly the invasive brown marmorated stink bug, cause significant damage to various crops. These pests feed on a large variety of plants, including fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Some examples of affected crops are:
They pierce plant tissues with their mouthparts to feed on the juices, causing damage to seeds, leaves, stems, fruits, and even roots. This results in deformed fruits, pod abortion in beans, and reduced yields in crops such as corn and soybeans.
Controlling Stink Bugs in Gardens and Farms
Biological control is a potential method for managing stink bug populations. Natural enemies like predators and parasitoids can help suppress their numbers by feeding on the bugs or their eggs 1.
Here is a comparison of biological control and chemical control for stink bugs:
|Environmentally friendly, sustainable, self-regulating
|May not provide complete control, can be slow to act
|Quick results, may provide complete control
|Can harm non-target organisms, environmental concerns
In gardens, removing weeds and debris that can harbor stink bugs may help to reduce their presence. On farms, insecticides are often used to reduce crop-damaging stink bug populations 2, although alternative control methods like biological control can offer more sustainable solutions.
Health Concerns and Stink Bug Bites
Physical Reactions to Bites
While stink bugs are generally not aggressive, they may bite defensively when threatened. However, their bites are rarely harmful to humans. Some reactions to bites include:
For example, a bite from a brown marmorated stink bug may cause temporary itching and redness on the skin.
Dealing with Allergies and Irritations
If bitten by a stink bug, some methods to reduce symptoms include:
- Washing the area with soap and water
- Applying a cold compress
- Taking over-the-counter pain relievers or antihistamines
It is important to remember that stink bugs do not transmit diseases and are not as problematic as bed bugs. Here is a comparison table of stink bugs and bed bugs:
|Rarely bite humans
|Commonly bite humans
|Do not transmit diseases
|Can transmit diseases
|Produce foul-smelling odor
|Do not produce odor
|Found outdoors and occasionally indoors
|Primarily found indoors (e.g., in beds)
In general, stink bug bites are not a serious health concern for humans or pets and can typically be treated with over-the-counter remedies.
Identifying Stink Bugs and Similar Insects
Different Types of Stink Bugs
There are various types of stink bugs, but one of the most common is the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB). These invasive species have a shield-like shape, and measure between 14-17 mm long, roughly the size of a U.S. dime. They are characterized by:
- Brown mottling
- Alternating broad light and dark bands on abdominal edges
- Last two antennal segments with white bands
BMSBs are native to East Asia and were first discovered in Pennsylvania, United States. They have since spread across the country.
Another type of stink bug is the two-spotted stink bug, a beneficial predator. It has two spots and keyhole markings, distinguishing it from other predatory stink bugs.
Comparing Stink Bugs to Other Insect Species
Stink bugs are sometimes confused with insects like kissing bugs, but they have different characteristics. Here’s a comparison table to differentiate them:
|Feeding Habits/Main Defense
|Diseases Potentially Carried
|Emitting foul odor
|Flies, wasps, wildlife
|Spiders, lizards, birds
Stink bugs don’t bite or carry diseases as kissing bugs do. They mainly rely on their defense mechanism of producing foul odors when threatened.
Mosquitoes, another common insect, are smaller and thinner than stink bugs and feed on blood through a piercing and sucking method. This causes them to transmit diseases like malaria and dengue fever, unlike stink bugs, which don’t cause harm to humans.
Pros of stink bugs:
- Beneficial predatory stink bugs help control pests
- Don’t bite or transmit diseases to humans
Cons of stink bugs:
- BMSBs can damage crops and plants
- Foul smell can be unpleasant
Remember to consider the size, shape, and behavior of insects when identifying stink bugs and similar species. By doing this, you can better understand their roles in ecosystems and any potential threats they might pose.
Stink Bug Behavior and Ecology
Stink bugs are herbivorous insects that feed on a variety of plants, including fruits, vegetables, and crops, using their specialized piercing-sucking mouthparts. They prefer to target plants during their most vulnerable stages, such as during the growth phase, and their feeding can cause significant damage to these plants. Some examples of their preferred plants include:
Reproduction and Life Cycle
The life cycle of stink bugs consists of three stages: egg, nymph, and adult. Adult female stink bugs lay clusters of 20-30 light green or yellow, elliptical-shaped eggs on the undersides of leaves. The eggs hatch into nymphs, which go through five developmental stages, called instars, each with distinctive coloration and size.
Comparison of Nymph Stages:
|Black & white
|Brown & white
After the final nymph stage, they molt into adults, which have a shield-like shape, distinct antennae with light and dark bands, and legs. Stink bugs secrete a foul-smelling odor as a defense mechanism against predators, using specialized scent glands.
Homeowners and Infestations
Stink bugs are notorious for invading homes during cold weather. They seek warmth and shelter, usually entering homes through small gaps, vents, and other entry points. Homeowners can take preventive measures to avoid infestations:
- Seal gaps with caulk
- Install weather stripping on doors and windows
- Repair damaged screens and vents
- Inspect attics, walls, and crawl spaces for potential entry points
Once inside, they may congregate in large numbers, causing distress to homeowners. Although they do not bite or pose a direct threat to humans, their odor and sheer numbers can be a nuisance. It is important to note that stink bugs are not native to the U.S.; rather, they originated in East Asia and were introduced in the late 1990s.
Predatory Stink Bugs
A subset of stink bug species are known as predatory stink bugs, such as the two-spotted stink bug. These insects are also shield-shaped but can be easily distinguished by their distinct markings. Instead of feeding on plants, predatory stink bugs feed on other insects and pests, making them beneficial predators for garden ecosystems.
Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – Unknown Australian Hemipteran is Lyramorpha rosea the Lychee Stink Bug
I found this cute fellow on our boat in the Northern Rivers of the East coast of Australia. The width of the oar it is sitting on is 5cm. Does it have a name? Cheers
While we cannot tell you an exact species, we can tell you this is a True Bug in the order Hemiptera. We tried to locate it on Geocities, but were luckless. The closest we can find is an immature Bronze Orange Bug in the family Tessaratomidae. Bugs in this family resemble Stink Bugs, but they are much larger and have proportionally smaller heads. Perhaps one of our readers will be able to provide an exact identification.
Before we even had an opportunity to post this submission, while trying to identify another Australian Hemipteran, we found Lyramorpha rosea on Csiro. It is called the Lychee Stink Bug
Letter 2 – Unknown Stink Bug from Singapore identified
Found a couple of shield bugs near my place,but was the only one I was able to catch. I’ve seen them before and known them as man-faced beetles, so it’s time for a proper identification. Wondering whether they have a specific food plant or not. I think they’re relatively rare here and about 2.5 to 3 cm long. Singapore Thanks
We got a photo of a mating pair of these Stink Bugs, also from Singapore, earlier in the month. At that time, Eric Eaton provided the following two possible families: “I’d guess either Pentatomidae or Acanthosomatidae.” Soon after posting, a reader sent this information: ” The man faced-bug is a pentatomidae probably Canthacantus nigripens !”
Letter 3 – Unknown Yellow Shield-Back Bug from Florida is Augocoris illustris
bug on sapotaceae
I saw this guy munching away on a fruit of a Satinleaf tree (Chrysophyllum oliveforme in the Sapotaceae). I’ve no idea what it is, but it is pretty cool and it didn’t bite me.
Steve Woodmansee, Senior Biologist
We do not recognize your beautiful Hemipteran, though we think it is a Stink Bug. Florida is a magnet for exotic species, either introduced on plants or blown up from the tropics during huricanes. We will check with Eric Eaton to see if he recognizes the species. Eric Eaton responded thus: “Hi, Daniel: The Florida bug is not a stink bug but a shield-backed bug, family Scutellaridae (sometimes lumped in Pentatomidae, though). Sure looks like something exotic, and I would suggest contacting Florida Department of Agriculture, Julieta at the USDA, or some other agency to make sure this is something native, or at worst, something not likely to become established. Great images, so ID should be relatively straightforward for an expert. Eric”
Letter 4 – Yet another "Mesquite Bug"
Apparently you received three reports of Thasus neocalifornicus on June 21 in Southern Arizona. Here’s another report, and two images I grabbed on the exact same day. Unfortunately, "my" insect wasn’t as romantic as a bunch of them crawling around in mesquite trees. It was a solitary one crawling on a styrofoam coffee cup someone left behind on a brick wall at The University of Arizona in Tucson. Why all on the same day, in the same general location, and why have I never seen this insect here before although I have lived in Arizona for nearly 15 years?
First of all, we love your photo with the styrofoam cup. It appeals to our sense of humor. Now addressing your point, perhaps we should wax philosophically about the genius of nature. Something in the insects life cycle triggers the insects to appear during a specific season to better insure the survival of the species. If all the members of a given species mature at the same time, chances are better for finding a mate. Some critters are off schedule, and if they happen to find a mate, it even further ensures success for the species. As to this year being a year that Thasus neocalifornicus is proliferating, I’m sure the unseasonal rains have contributed to the population explosion.
Letter 5 – Zelus Assassin Nymph
assassin bug or stink bug?
I recently went to a class on ecological pest management and they said that it is hard to tell the difference between an assassin bug and a leaf footed stink bug. One is good & one is bad. Now, I’m freaked out because I don’t know if I have the good ones or the bad ones. I have about 10 of these guys on a rose bush and I found another one on a crepe myrtle on the other side of my house. Hope you can tell me if I should kill them or leave them alone.
You have beneficial Zelus Assassin Bug nymphs.
Letter 6 – Where’s That Bug????
Subject: Stink bud
Location: Wirtz VA.
August 16, 2014 12:29 pm
Please help me control these bugs at my sisters house in Wirtz VA. What can I do to control and get rid of them…. They came back with me to L.I. Last year and yes they really Stink!!! stillhairymary
Signature: From you daniel
We have carefully inspected the attached image from corner to corner, scrutinizing all points in between, and try as we might, we are unable to find any Stink Bud or Stink Bug for that matter. We suspect you may be inquiring about the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, Halyomorpha halys, an invasive, introduced species that is becoming a major agricultural pest and general nuisance in much of North America. We do not provide extermination advice. You may find some helpful information on the Penn State Entomology site as well as numerous other resources on the internet.
Yes thank you for your answer. That looks like the bug my sister has. Very stinky if you squish them. They will hide anywhere so they came back to Long Island last fall in my suitcase lining and clothing I had packed up the day before I left. Love your site, made my day Saturday!!!
Letter 7 – Unknown Arizona Stink Bug
I thought I’d try you again on a bug that’s been a bit of a quandary for me for a while. I did browse through your pages on the True Bugs, but, alas, found nothing close. The attached photo was taken in August of 2005, in my front yard in Flagstaff, Arizona, U.S.A. The insects appear to be one of the "true bugs", possibly a Hemiptera species? They’re small, between 1/4 inch to 3/8 inch (6.4 mm to 9.5 mm). But, again, I’ve been unable to find an exact match, though it seems to have some similarities to the stink bugs. The "host" plant is a Lambs Ears (Stachys byzantina) … these bugs were, in 2005, quite numerous and, though they appear to be feeding on plant juices, the plants didn’t seem to suffer for it … so, we left them alone. Personally I thought they were rather attractive insects with the stark contrast between the black and white with the splash of orange. But some people think I’m a bit odd. Thank you for a wonderful website! And, thanks in advance for any help you can provide,
Flagstaff, Arizona, U.S.A
We can be a bit more specific. These are Stink Bugs in the family Pentatomidae, but we cannot locate a visual match for your distinctive specimens on BugGuide’s extensive Stink Bug pages. We will contact Eric Eaton to see if he has an opinion.
Letter 8 – Unknown Immature Predatory (we think) Stink Bug
black beetle with a red spot on back
June 3, 2009
we found this bug on our scrub oak, along with woolly oak aphids. What can you tell me about this beetle and the woolly aphid. Will they damage the oaks? we have hundreds of oaks planted, but only see the beetles on maybe ten, but the aphids are on many more. We just started to see the beetles, and the aphids have been there for about a month.
southern new mexico
First we must apologize for the lengthy delay, but your letter arrived when we were out of town and we really never caught up on unanswered mail. We are trying to randomly select a few unanswered letters a day to address and post. This is some species of immature Stink Bug in the family Pentatomidae, and we believe it is a Predatory Stink Bug in the subfamily Asopinae which is represented on BugGuide. The genus Perillus seems like a good bet, and it contains two black species found in nearby Arizona, but BugGuide does not have images of the immature nymphs of Perillus confluens and Perillus splendidus. Perhaps one of our readers will know this answer.
Letter 9 – Unknown Stink Bug from Belize
Green Jungle Beettle?
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Subject: Green Jungle Beettle?
Location: Jungles of Western Belize
January 27, 2012 11:21 am
On our jungle hike yesterday, we noticed this beetle hanging out with leaf cutter ants on some freshly cut plants. It appears to have very distinct colors, and we hope it will be easy to identify. Thanks for your help!
Signature: Lower Dover Field Journal
Dear Lower Dover Field Journal,
You are mistaken. This is not a Beetle. It is a Stink Bug in the family Pentatomidae, but we have not had any luck determining the species. We will try some additional research.
Thanks! If it’s any help it had violet under-wings.
Letter 10 – Unknown Stink Bug from Costa Rica possibly Brachystethus rubromaculatus
Beautiful Costa Rican Beetle
Sat, Dec 6, 2008 at 8:08 PM
My friend John just snapped this shot of an absolutely beautiful beetle a couple of days ago in the Guanacaste area of Costa Rica (Pacific Coast). It was sunning itself on the edge of our pool, and flew away after it’s photo was taken. I’ve been traveling to Costa Rica for about 10 years, and have seen many beautiful insects and spiders, but I think this one is my favorite so far.
Can you tell me what it is?
Cental America, Guanacaste Costa Rica
Your “beautiful beetle” is actually not a beetle. It goes by the decidedly not beautiful name of a Stink Bug. We are not sure of the species, and we may have time to do additional research in the future, but for the moment, we are posting your photo of a Stink Bug in the family Pentatomidae in the hopes that one of our readers will be able to provide a species name.
Thank you – I’ll watch the site to find out what your readers have to say. Ahhh well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder – but the nose always knows! 🙂 Thank you for your response.
I am almost certain that your Costa Rican stink bug is Brachystethus rubromaculatus, which occurs from Mexico to Panama. If you are really interested, there is a rather technical document which includes a species description and illustration (look for Fig. 2) located at: http://www.scielo.br/pdf/isz/v93n4/a08v93n4.pdf Regards.
Letter 11 – Unknown Shield Bug from Mozambique is Picasso Bug
December 10, 2010 2:19 am
Hello! Friend of mine in Mozambique found this interesting bug in Mozambique. Not sure of location, but did find a similar picture from Kew Gardens expedition, and they have not identified it. Really need to know if this critter is rare or common? And of course what it is!!
Signature: any way ?
Dear any way,
Sadly, we haven’t the time to research this right now, but we are posting the photo. We believe this is a Stink Bug in the family Pentatomidae. The markings are truly awesome. Alas, we must get ready to go to work now.
Hi Daniel and any way:
Picasso Bug and Zulu Hud Bug are the two common names I found for this guy. It’s a Shield-backed Bug (Scutelleridae), probably Sphaerocoris annulus, but there could be similar species. I couldn’t find out much about it other than it appears to be quite widely dispersed – I found photos from South Africa, Ethiopia and Cameroon. What an amazing creature! It’s almost hard to believe that it’s real, but nothing surprises me anymore. Regards. Karl
Letter 12 – Unknown Stink Bug from South Africa
No idea what kind of Bug this is
Location: South Africa – Limpopo province – Vaalwater region
January 3, 2011 3:11 pm
I took this photo in South Africa. I found it a very curious insect. But I have no idea what it is. I looked in the insect book ive got (field guide to insects of south africa by Picker-Weaving-Griffiths) and searched around the internet and i think it is somekind of Shieldbug, but do not know what kind. I hope you can help
Shield Bugs in the family Scutelleridae and Stink Bugs in the family Pentatomidae are closely related and share many similarities. We believe this is a Stink Bug, we we were unable to find a species name for you in a quick attempt. Perhaps one of our readers will have more luck.
Letter 13 – Ypsilon Stink Bug from Barbados
Subject: Colorful Stinkbug from Barbados
March 5, 2014 6:59 am
I was wondering if you can identify this stinkbug, as i dont remember ever seeing any so colourful here (only usually see plain green or brown ones).
*Update* – on further research I think that it may be mormidea cf ypsilon. Can you confirm this?
We are sorry we did not have an opportunity to respond to your original request, and we are happy you did some research and wrote back to us. There is an image of Mormidea cf. ypsilon on the American Insects website and it looks like a perfect match to your individual. The American Insects website states: “Linnaeus described the Ypsilon Stink Bug in 1758. It is the most widespread species in the genus, found from San Luis Potosí, Mexico south to northern Argentina and Uruguay. It is also found on Nevis, St. Vincent, and other islands of the Lesser Antilles (Rolston, 1978). In Mormidea ypsilon the shoulders may be rounded narrowly, or else are spinose. The scutellum is longer than wide. The membrane is somewhat smoky. The basal antennal segment is pale, variously streaked in a darker color. The remaining antennal segments are dark, with the exception of narrow pale-colored bands on the fourth and fifth segments (Rolston, 1978). The specific epithet, of course, refers to the ivory to yellowish marking shaped like a Greek Y.” It is also pictured on Project Noah.
The other insect in your images looks like some species of Leaf Beetle in the family Chrysomelidae.
Thanks for the confirmation. honestly that research took me a couple days, i dont know how you handle so many requests so quickly! As for the other insect i thought it was just a nymph/juvenile of the same stinkbug.
Alas, we are quite unable to provide responses to many of the requests that we receive because there just never seems to be enough time in the day.