Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Stink Bugs (But Were Afraid to Ask)

When I was little, I remember coming across stink bugs sometimes while out playing.  I grew up in the 60s and 70s and back in those days, kids played outside.  Our parents literally had to call us in at night.  We would take a break from playing to go inside and eat dinner, and then we’d be right back outside until after dark, catching lightning bugs or playing flashlight tag.

We played in different neighborhood yards, we climbed trees, rode bikes, and we played in some nearby woods.  As kids, bugs were a part of our lives.

I remember one day while out playing with a friend on the patio, we came across a bug, one that we knew to be called a “stink bug.”  They were usually gray or brownish in color but I also remember seeing green stink bugs.  We saw them from time to time and they looked like this.

450px-Brown_marmorated_stink_bug

Our curiosity got the best of us and my friend and I began wondering what exactly a stink bug smelled like.  How exactly did this creature get its name?  I don’t remember which one of us performed the dirty duty of stepping on the poor bug, but suffice it to say, one of us did, with great trepidation.   What emanated from that squashed bug was the strong smell of bananas.  YES, BANANAS.  I remember that smell very vividly like it was yesterday. That was the one and only time I can ever remember smelling a stink bug.

Our experience could only be described as anticlimactic.  We were expecting some horrible putrid smell and were met by the quite pleasant aroma of bananas.  My conclusion?  These bugs had been named improperly and were getting a bad rap.  My curiosity about stink bugs was over though, and I never gave them a second thought.

Fast forward forty something years later to this past Halloween night, October 31, 2013.  I was sitting at the computer desk catching up on some blog reading when I felt something down my shirt atop my cleavage.  Only moments earlier, I had eaten some delicious Planters Cocktail  Peanuts right out of the can.

planters-cocktail-peanuts-

Thinking I must have dropped a peanut down my shirt, I reached down and grabbed said peanut, as I got up to walk into the bathroom to dispose of this peanut in the trashcan.  I was halfway to the bathroom, and in the hallway, when I felt this “peanut” move and when I looked down, to my great surprise, I saw that it was NOT a peanut I had clutched in my fingers, but a big black and orange stink bug– a stink bug who was NOT happy about being held captive and who was wildly thrashing its legs.  I screamed (yes, like a girl) and slung the stink bug down onto our hardwood floors in the hallway.  The bug landed on its back.  I remember thinking how appropriate that this stink bug would be black and orange in color since it was Halloween.  I had never seen a black and orange stink bug. About that time, the stench hit me.  And it wasn’t the pleasant aroma of bananas this time. This malodorous smell was a combination of something very musky with a hint of cinnamon spice.  I pulled the collar of my shirt out and the stench hit me right in the face.  I smelled my fingers where only seconds before I had held the stink bug, and the smell gagged me.  I heaved.  I got a tissue and picked up the poor smelly stink bug who was still lying traumatized on its back, flailing its legs and trying to right itself.  I ran out the front door and hurled it into the yard.  I don’t know who was more distressed, me or the stink bug.  Let me tell you, that little bug put out one heck of a putrid odor.  How I got a stink bug down my shirt in the first place is beyond me.  I had walked around the yard that afternoon and I guess he/she must have hitched a ride on me into the house.  Ewww.

After showering (yes, the odor was just that unpleasant), I googled stink bugs as I was curious as to why the gray stink bug of my childhood memories smelled like bananas and this black and orange Halloween stink bug smelled musky with a hint of cinnamon.  In my reading I learned that there are 221 species of stink bugs in North America alone and that they come in a variety of colors and sizes.  Apparently, different stink bugs emit different odors.  Some describe the odor as skunk-like, some like cabbage, some describe it as a spicy smell, and others describe it as a decaying or rotten odor.  All agree it is unpleasant.  I also read not to ever crush one or “upset” one in your house as the odor a stink bug emits as its defense mechanism can attract other stink bugs into your house.   Ugh.  That’s all I need.  But so far, so good.  Two weeks have passed and not a stink bug in sight.

I also read that stink bugs taste bad so birds and other predators tend to leave them alone. So I was pretty surprised when I then went on to read that stink bugs are considered a cultural delicacy in South Africa and are valued for their protein content and are used to flavor stews, etc.  I sure didn’t know that.   In Europe and North America they are considered pests to our crops and are viewed unfavorably.

Have you ever had an encounter with a stink bug?  I’d love to hear your story!

Gail ♥ 

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About Gail

I am a wife, mother, sister, aunt, friend, veterinarian, and wanna be writer. I love nature and animals of all kinds, music, cooking, and spending time with my family.
This entry was posted in Childhood memories, Memories and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Stink Bugs (But Were Afraid to Ask)

  1. That was a very informative read, and I will be careful not to tell my kids or they’ll be jumping on stink bugs to se if the smell of bananas. Icckkk, I wouldn’t like one of those in my cleavage. Brr. I swear I was bitten by a stink bug once – is that possible? Here they are either green or brown, and we call them shield bugs. I am relieved to see that someone else remembers the time kids played outside and hadn’t met up with Nintendo and his pals.

  2. Gail says:

    Most sites reported they don’t bite although I did read a few articles that reported it was possible. I read that it’s uncommon for them to be aggressive and bite and they are usually considered harmless.

    Only one article I read reported that they can release a “sweet” smell. All others described their smell as unpleasant. It made me wonder if the odor they produce is dependent on what they eat (sounded like they are big fruit eaters). It would be interesting to talk to an entomologist about these strange bugs.

    It’s interesting that they are called shield bugs there. Makes perfect sense though as their bodies are shaped just like a shield.

  3. Mary says:

    I came upon your blog entry for October 2013, as I was researching stinkbugs, also known as shield bugs. This is now November of 2016, but I decided to respond, because I had an experience with a stink bug that had a wonderful odor, if you like the smell of cinnamon sticks or “red-hots.” This was back in the early 70’s when I was in college, in Athens, GA (UGA). I had opened the window to my dorm room, and noticed a shield bug in between the window and the screen. I don’t remember anything about the color, but I remember I began to push it around with my finger. It was then that it emitted a spray with the strong, unmistakable odor of cinnamon. To me, a bug that has some sort of laboratory inside itself that can create “aldehydes” of different odors that sometimes smell pleasant, is remarkable. I believe that God created all things, and the stinkbug is a tribute to His genius!

    • Gail says:

      I agree! Stinkbugs are remarkable and fascinating creatures! We seemed to have an abundance of them this fall. This is the first year I can ever remember finding them inside my house. Thanks for your comment!

  4. Relax... says:

    I have the shield beetles every Fall here in the Northeast. I see them on the walls outside of the house, and soon enough, they’re all INside! I don’t mind them, but they live all winter and then die in curtain or drape folds — if anything, I ceel bad for them. Apparently. I’ve never upset one!

    • Gail says:

      Last fall was the first year I have ever had them come into my house. I heard friends say the same thing. They’ve always stayed outside here but for some reason they invaded both my deck and house last year. My cats avoided them!

      • Relax... says:

        I’m so pet-less, I actually play peek-a-boo with them. Don’t tell anyone. 😉

      • Gail says:

        Ha! I won’t tell anyone! Just curious….Are they called shield beetles in the Northeast? Here in the Southeast, I’ve only heard them called Stink bugs. Both are adequate descriptions I guess!!!!

      • Relax... says:

        They’re called stink bugs here, too — I embellished the word, because I’m sure folks here could NOT resist the temptation to stomp on one! Plus, they walk just like beetles. I’ve also seen the non-shield longer ones around (where I work). Those I literally shoo along into shadows.

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