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Reader Public Service (Entomology 101)

Friday, October 15th, 2010

In an earlier post (yesterday’s, I do believe), there was a reference in the Comments (or two or three) to the “Stink Bug” plague we are experiencing in my state. For those readers who may not inhabit the tri-state NJ/NY/PA area, where these things are rampant, please consider this a public service so that you may go about your day, content in the knowledge that these insidiously annoying creatures have not invaded your living spaces (yet).

image from Rutgers University Agricultural Experiment Station

What the heck is this? Ick.

Didn’t you know? It is a Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, or for you scientist geeks out there, Halyomorpha halys. Consider the following, from Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences:

The brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB), an insect not previously seen on our continent, was apparently accidentally introduced into eastern Pennsylvania. It was first collected in September of 1998 in Allentown, but probably arrived several years earlier. As of September 2010, Halyomorpha halys has been recorded from 37 counties in PA and NJ, although it is probable that they are in all counties.

It is also recorded from many other states such as: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, D.C. and West Virginia

This true bug in the insect family Pentatomidae is known as an agricultural pest in its native range of China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan. Recently, the BMSB has become a serious pests of fruit, vegetables and farm crops in the Mid-Atlantic region and it is probable that it will become a pest of these commodities in other areas in the United States.

BMSB becomes a nuisance pest both indoors and out when it is attracted to the outside of houses on warm fall days in search of protected, overwintering sites. BMSB  occasionally reappears during warmer sunny periods throughout the winter, and again as it emerges in the spring.

Allow me to translate this into language we can all really understand:

This thing hitched a ride on a container of Happy Meal toys or some other Chinese-made crap that we needed here in the PA/NJ area, and is now running rampant all over the place. It’s eating our crops and generally scaring the hell out of unsuspecting people who are just trying to live their lives, dammit. Do you think it would be possible to read a book in bed at night and not be subjected to a drop in from points on high? Ugh.

They find the warmest side of your house and swarm all over the outside, and then somehow, when you are not looking (and have ceased flicking them off your bedroom screens), sneak in to hide out until the cold snaps so that they can reemerge when it warms up a touch. Just when you’ve been sufficiently (and unknowingly) bamboozled into letting your guard down and are once again feeling safe enough to sleep with your mouth open (hey, a girl’s gotta breathe), they’re back. (They’re sneaky as hell, but I didn’t see that reported by Penn State.) Bring on the dark, cold days of January, I say. Enough of this already.

Further:

The name “stink bug” refers to the scent glands located on the dorsal surface of the abdomen and the underside of the thorax.

These insects are not known to cause harm to humans, although homeowners become alarmed when the bugs enter their homes and noisily fly about.  The stink bug will not reproduce inside structures or cause damages.  If many of them are squashed or pulled into a vacuum cleaner, their smell can be quite apparent.

Translation:

They have no compunction against startling the hell out of you, particularly in the quiet of your master bedroom while you’re reading the new Vince Flynn novel. However, if you kill, or even startle, them (or stress them, the poor dears), they emit some really gross stink not unlike that of a skunk. This makes killing them tricky, since your inclination to vacuum them up can result in a the smelliest vacuum you’ve never dreamed of; siccing your dopey dogs on them will result in a one-time-only kill (since even the dogs realize that playing with these things just ends in sadness); no known pesticide exists for them (even the most hardened of anti-chemical human beings begins to beg for an Agent-Orange like poison to kill these suckers); and the only real way to get rid of them successfully is to gather them up (one by one) in a tissue and then put your book down and climb out of bed, step over the dog, go into the freezing cold dark bathroom and flush it (turning on the light to make sure it goes down, of course, or risk nightmares of stink bugs in private places in the morning).

This concludes the Reader Public Service Announcement. Please return to your bug-free lives (you lucky so-and-so’s). You’re welcome.

For those scientist geeks out there who’d like more info, please visit the fine entomologists at Penn State. They’ve got Brown Marmorated Stink Bug info sheets you can print out (and color).

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Brass monkeys should mind their ears.

Friday, August 13th, 2010

“What kind of 8-year-old talks like that?” is often what I’ll be asked after someone has a conversation with my youngest child, son K.  And it’s true — he can converse with you the same way you might converse with your elderly neighbor, were you to meet said neighbor in the canned vegetable aisle at Shop-Rite or out by the mailbox collecting your zillionth ValPak envelope along with that week’s People. K’s always got a story to tell, and usually the telling of the story involves a cast of characters, vigorous hand gestures, and a variety of voices — all performed by K. His 2nd grade teacher found him charming — as does most everyone he meets — and reported that the whole class looked forward to hearing what stories K would share come Monday’s “circle time.”

He’s the guy you go to for the updates on everyone in the family. K’s interpretation of what’s been going on with us is usually accurate, and always entertaining. A sister sitting out a week of performing arts day camp made perfect sense to him, for example, because she was going to miss the final day (we were leaving on vacation) and thus the performance. Why would she go?, he reasoned — to go for four days and miss the final performance would obviously be, in his word, “pointless.”

When Grandma called (coincidentally) as they were arriving home from day camp and asked to speak to me, she was told, “Mom is home all day long but now she’s not here. She waits for us to get home from camp and then she goes out.” Ummm. Not really, but I can see how he would think that since I have to leave to pick up his sister at the same time that he gets off the camp bus!

K can hold up his end of a conversaton like few 8 years olds I know. It is not unusual for one of his friend’s mothers to tell me, “Boy, did I have a great talk with K today. That boy is hilarious! You should hear him talk about _____. He had us cracking up!” K can talk and talk and talk and talk — but you never get the sense that he’s talking to hear himself. He talks for the audience, be they a group of 8 year olds, the teachers at recess, or the contractor working on our addition. One of the most compelling things about K’s stories, I think, is that he is rarely telling tall tales. He’s Irish, yes, and has the blue eyes and silver tongue of generations of Irish before him, and yet his stories are always believable, and more interestingly, true. K hasn’t yet discovered the value of a bit o’ malarkey to keep an audience engaged; his ability to weave a tale — and his remarkable choice of vocabulary whilst telling his tales — have proven to be more than enough to keep his fans satisfied. (True, the majority are 8 year olds {and their teachers}, but still.)

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