By Owen Auch, ’15
Recently, as the obvious next step in my continuing quest for self-discovery, I took a quiz to determine my spirit animal at the highly reputable website, www.spiritanimal.info. It told me that my spirit animal is a butterfly, just as I expected. But despite the astounding accuracy of these quizzes, I don’t need one to determine my anti-spirit animal (a word I just made up)—it is, without question, the stink bug.
Why do I hate this stinky but seemingly harmless insect, you ask? At risk of sounding childish, they started it.
Every morning, I pry myself from the comfort of my bed and begin the ordeal of showering. My ears ache from the shrill alarm, my eyes burn in the light and plead for me to close them again. I’m in my most vulnerable state.
This is when the stink bugs go on the offensive. Neglecting even the common courtesy to allow me to dress before battle, at least one stink bug sneaks up on me every morning, naked and unsuspecting in the shower, and scares the bejesus out of me. Sometimes one lurks underneath the shower handle, just waiting for my hand to touch it before buzzing wildly. Another one hides within my towel, waiting to release its stink when I think I’m finally safe. I am usually able to gain a semblance of justice by flushing the insurgent bug down the toilet, but I can practically hear his comrades laughing at me within the walls of my house.
I hate stink bugs. I hate stink bugs more than I hate aggressive salespeople, movie adaptations of books and dropping a perfectly good cookie on the floor, combined. But instead of just complaining about it, I decided to combat the stink bug scourge. I spent hours pouring over military strategy, but kept coming back to one quote by ancient Chinese General Sun Tzu: “Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.”
I already understood my butterfly nature, so I just needed to know more about stink bugs to prevail. So I contacted Celeste Welty, associate professor of Entomology at The Ohio State University. After studying stink bugs for 15 years, Welty had more information about the bugs than I even thought existed.
To start, Welty explained to me that stink bugs are an invasive species with very few natural predators that arrived in the US from China in the 1990s.
First, this fact makes me reconsider my stance on immigration policy. Second, a lack of natural predators means that I won’t have any animals as allies in my battle against stink bugs. I suppose I’ll have to rely on scientific breakthroughs to help me win the war, as if that has ever worked before.
Once winter hits, Welty said, large numbers of stink bugs invade the upper floors of homes, as stink bugs like to be high up and warm. And while I get attacked virtually every day, Welty said stink bugs usually don’t do much and stink in self-defense only when agitated.
“When they’re in your house, they don’t feed and they don’t mate,” said Welty. “They’re just in their hibernation state, waiting until spring.”
The fact that my particular stink bug enemies are deserting their evolutionary hibernation programming just to make my life miserable makes things even more personal, but I suppose my situation could be worse. There’s a mountain in Pennsylvania where thousands of stink bugs gather at a time—thankfully, I don’t take my showers there.
But after learning all about my enemy, Welty finally discussed what I’d been waiting for: offensive tactics.
“When [stink bugs] are out in the summer, they don’t have to move a lot. They’re happy to sit on a plant for days at a time,” said Welty. “[Stink bugs] don’t really need to fly unless they run out of food, so flying is not really their specialty.”
The stink bug’s clumsiness in the air, coupled with his attraction to light and warmth, makes fashioning an effective trap easy. Simply fill a pan with about an inch of soapy water, place a light source next to the pan, and, as stink bugs fly towards the light, they fall in the water, the soap breaks the surface tension, and the bugs drown. It seemed too simple to work against such an intelligent enemy, but Welty confirmed its effectiveness with several studies. Not even their stinky defense mechanism can compete with the awesome power of a lamp and an inch of water.
I thanked Welty, anxious to get home to lay my deadly trap. But on my way, I started having second thoughts. It turns out that stink bugs and I have a lot in common. We both arrived in America in the 90s, if by different means. Stink bugs don’t have many predators; neither do I (I hope). We are both attracted to warmth and shiny lights. Neither of us is great at flying. And in the winter, we both hibernate inside my house, moving as little as possible. I wonder if stink bugs have Netflix.
So instead of ‘warring’ with the stink bugs of my bathroom, I decided to pitch a truce. Since then, we’ve lived in an uneasy peace (I did see one on my toothbrush the other day). The stink bugs have learned to show a bit of decency and refrain from startling me in the morning, and I no longer flush the stink bugs I find and instead release them outside.
My spirit animal will never be a stink bug, but at least the stink bugs and I are no longer sworn enemies, and someday, we may call each other friends. And that, compared to war, is a whole lot less stinky.