By Les Harrison
Wakulla County Extension Office
Sometimes a name may actually describe the dominant characteristic of its owner. In this day of marketing exaggerations, and occasionally outright misrepresentations, the experience can be quite refreshing.
For example, it may appear the praying mantis is returning thanks before each meal, but in reality it is in a striking position.
In actuality it should be called a mantis which preys on careless bugs, as such, a preying mantis.
However, blueberries really are blue and honeybees really do make honey. For those unpleasant situations which may produce a negative experience for the accidental transgressor, it is fortunate when the descriptor is correct.
Stinkbugs really do stink, at least to most humans. It is not only their odor which is offensive, but also most species are considered destructive pest.
Members of the Pentatomidae family, as stinkbugs are known formally, are capable of ejecting a foul smelling substance at any perceived threat. The offending compound is secreted from pores in this insect’s thorax when it is disturbed.
This works well for the stinkbugs because their behavior is likely the most offensive part of their reputation. These insects are voracious consumers of a wide variety of plants in the garden and the landscape, as well as common weeds.
While they are small, easily fitting on a dime, they are prolific reproducers. Four to five generations may occur in a single year depending on food availability and other environmental conditions.
Eggs are laid on the host plants in clusters numbering up to 100, usually on the underside of leaves.
The nymphs and adults feed on a variety of herbaceous weeds which can include Yuccas, turf and forage grasses and many crops including corn, peaches, pecans, peanuts, soybeans, tomatoes and many more.
Stink bugs usually overwinter as adults, but are able to remain active all year when the winter weather is mild. All the while they are eating and reproducing.
Stink bugs are highly mobile when mature. The adults fly from crop to crop as the seasons advance. When crop and weed hosts mature and die in the fall, stink bugs move into pecan orchards or other woodlots looking for food and overwintering sites.
Stinkbugs are piercing-sucking feeders. They use their saliva to penetrate their food material, dissolve the contents and then suck up the digesting mixture.
Feeding will damage part of the developing fruit or vegetable, rendering it unusable. As a result of this tissue loss, the damaged portion of the fruit does not grow. As the healthy tissue continues to grow around the damaged area, this uneven growth forms an injury commonly known as “cat-facing.”
Some of the stinkbugs are native, others being recently introduced from distant lands. The most recent destructive member of the stinkbug’s extended family is the Kudzu bug.
It does eat Kudzu, but unfortunately it eats many other desirable plants too. It was first documented in Wakulla County three years ago in May 2013.
This hardy exotic insect has all the negative traits and habits of its domestic cousins, plus there are no known predators which consider it a menu option. Hopefully, the praying mantises will view these new arrivals as mana from heaven.