HOW TO HELP
Rick Hoebeke asks homeowners who find what they think are brown marmorated stink bugs to send him a photo or even freeze a bug and mail it to his lab. Email photos to firstname.lastname@example.org. Ship specimens in a crush-proof container to E.R. Hoebeke, Collection of Arthropods, Georgia Museum of Natural History, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602.
STINK BUG FACTS
• Color: A dark mottled brown, with black and white spotted antennae
• Size: About half an inch
• Origin: Asian native, sometimes called the yellow-brown or East Asian stink bug
• In U.S.: First identified in Allentown, Pa., in 2001, but could have been in the area since 1996. Could have entered the country as stowaways in packing crates.
• Food: All types of fruits, especially apples, pears, peaches and berries
Whatever you do, don't squash it.
That's the advice experts have for Georgia homeowners who encounter the brown marmorated stink bug as it scurries into cozy attics to wait out the winter.
This stink bug is known to release a pungent odor that can be as foul as a skunk or spicy like cilantro. The pests have been spotted recently in the Peach State for the first time. Crawling through cracks and under siding, the bugs build nests and can cost homeowners hundreds of dollars to dislodge.
"It can establish nests by the thousands," said Rick Hoebeke, a University of Georgia entomologist.
But as bad as the smell can be, it's the threat to fruit crops that could cause the most harm.
Experts and growers worry that as the weather warms next spring, the creatures will crawl from homes to invade orchards and farms, harming Georgia's $60 million peach and $6 million apple industries.
"There's definitely no question that it's coming," said Jessica Holthaus, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Agriculture. "Our fruit crops are at risk."
Across the mid-Atlantic states, the stink bug has cost fruit growers millions, Hoebeke said. And there are no known natural predators in the U.S. to keep the bug at bay.
The pest, which is endemic to Asia, was first identified in this country in Pennsylvania in 2001. Since then, it has been spread to 33 states. While the stink bug has been found in a few places in northern parts of Tennessee, it hasn't made its way to Chattanooga yet.
But the bugs have been hitching rides south and were spotted this year in South Carolina.
That alerted Hoebeke, one of the lead researchers on this species, and prompted him to begin researching whether the creature had gotten a foothold in Georgia. He has identified patches of the pest in the Atlanta region, and he hopes to document infestations wherever they may be.
"We don't know what it's going to do in the Deep South," he said. "It could take five to 10 years to have an impact."
Stink bugs don't let off their foul smell unless they are disturbed, so a homeowner could go months without knowing there was an infestation, said Chad Haney, owner of Lookout Pest Control in Rossville.
"You might not even know unless you see them on your siding," Haney said.
Haney said he gets one to two complaints a month for regular stink bugs as well as calls from locals who don't know what has infested their home.
If the brown marmorated stink bug does show up, homeowners could begin to spot them as soon as the weather gets cold.
There is no easy way to kill the unwanted guests.
Pest control experts say infested houses have to be sprayed from the outside.
But don't startle a bug that appears to be a stink bug or your house could be flooded with a foul stench.
Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia growers say they have begun to check their apple trees this season for the unwanted species.
"We are worried about that one because they say it's hard to kill," said Janice Hale, owner of Hillcrest Orchard in Ellijay, Ga.
Some of the state's top commodities -- peaches, pears, apples and blueberries -- could be at risk in the coming years, Holthaus said.
UGA professor of entomology Dan Horton said the bugs pierce the fruit, liquefy the inside and then suck the fruit juice out.
Because the wound is small, it can be hard to spot the damage early on, Horton said.
This fall Horton has been taking trips to North Georgia apple orchards to check with growers for the insects.
"The sooner we know where it is, the better we can figure out how to monitor it," he said.
Chuck McSpadden, owner of Apple Valley Orchard in Cleveland, Tenn., hopes a natural solution can be found soon. He said he stocked his orchard with natural predators that eat other harmful insects and spraying for the stink bug would harm the good ones.
"I'm hoping they can come up with something before it's infested," he said. "I can't imagine losing a crop years in a row."