Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

October 15, 2008

October Stinks

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 6:34 pm

  From reading the title, you might get the impression that I hate October. Such a statement, taken out of context, could be considered downright Anti-American. Well, let me assure you that I am referring only to a small part of the month and not the whole package. There is nothing not to like (was that a double negative or what!) about the season – with the leaf color palette entering into full stage, pumpkin dotted fields, Indian corn and all – but this also happens to be the season for Stinkbugs.  These little packages of foulness are the reason that October can stink.

  These insects, card-carrying members of the “true bug” order, spent their summer growing up. The little stinkers turn into big ones by the time late September and early October rolls around and generally make their presence known on warm autumn days.

  It’s easy enough to identify Stinkbugs (see above) because of their shield-shaped outlines.  They are more properly known as Shieldbugs because of this.  You could, in fact, paint a blue field with stars and run a few red and white stripes down the back and you’d have a pretty good version of the shield adorning our national bird.  The top part of the shield (where the blue starry part would be) is the creature’s thorax and the bottom portion (where the stripes would go) are the wing covers. As true bugs, you’ll notice that the upper portion of the wing covers are “hard” and the lower portions are “soft” and veiny – thus the group name of Hemiptera or half wings.

  You probably are not interested in this technical stuff are you? No, you would rather find out what all the stink is about. Stink bugs don’t put up a stink until they are prompted to do so when threatened.  As a rule they go about their daily lives smelling much like you or I (generally good, in other words, until your deodorant fails).  They only have a few means of defense. Most are straw-mouthed plant eaters and can’t really land a good bite. There is the option to fly away or hide behind their protective coloration (like this tan one).  When it gets down to it, however, they can drop the big CHO bomb if they have to. By that, I mean an aldehyde chemical composed of a whole bunch of carbons, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms that combine into a putrid stew.

  The smelly stuff is exuded from two glands located between the 2nd and 3rd pair of legs. I suppose you could call these armpits if you like.  It takes a roughing up in order to get the bug to exude the chemical bomb. It is meant to make you, or a predator, drop the smelly party in favor of sweeter smelling fare. I was amused at one website which attempted to explain exactly how to make a “stinkbug stink.”  The site states that in order “to make a stinkbug release its odor, hold the insect with your thumb and forefinger.”  This sounds so formal doesn’t it?  I wonder if holding up your pinkie while doing this would affect the bouquet of the stench.

  A Stinkbug’s smell is not skunk-like but it is strong enough to discourage a second whiff. One author described the smell as “fairly sweet” but I’m not sure I would go that far.  So, the lesson to be learned here is not to rough up a Stinkbug, or otherwise hold one betwixt thumb and forefinger, and you’ll both get through the month in good shape. The bug will hibernate as an adult and you will stick around to greet winter with a smile.  Happy Stinkbug Month.

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