February weather in coastal Mississippi can be fickle. Light jackets in the morning are shed by noon and the first flowers of the year are showing up everywhere. Red Maples, Elliott’s Blueberries, and Clovers are sure signs of longer days and warmer weather to come. But these early bloomers are not the only things that are emerging after our brief winter weather. So are the many bugs that have used your home as a safe haven during their cold weather slumber. Among the more intimidating are the large stink bugs that are finding their way onto your screen doors or windows, both inside and out. They have spent the last month or so hiding in any crack or crevice that they could find, often under the siding or shutters on your home, and on occasion, in your home. They will often be found on porches or workshops, hiding between boards, boxes or under and between all of that “stuff” that you have stored there.
The larger and more common of these are the Leaf-footed Bugs, their size making most folks pause a bit and think twice about what to do next. Their common name refers to the flattened leaf-shaped segment on their rear legs. The one thing that you should avoid is picking them up, for like all members of the group called stink bugs, they will let loose with a bit of smelly juice when startled or mishandled. The smell will linger for some time! Think of these bugs as the insect equivalent of skunks. But the trick does work for many predators that think that these bugs would make a tasty morsel. As with other distasteful insects like Monarch Butterflies, the bitter taste or, in this case, nasty smell will make the experience unpleasant. Birds for example, will learn to avoid the next stink bug and, in many cases, the bug that it did try to eat may also fair well.
So, why are these bugs in your home?
It is a simple case of these and many other kinds of insects seeking any basic form of shelter from the elements in winter. These cold-bloodied creatures are at the mercy of ambient temperatures and when temperatures drop, so does their activity. Seasonal changes in day-length and temperature triggers their instincts to find those safe places and wait for the weather to change. Some species overwinter as immatures (larvae or pupae), others as adults, and still others as eggs, deposited in the fall. Unlike warm-bloodied organisms, insect blood does not freeze: its chemistry creates an antifreeze affect, allowing them to survive cold temperatures. In either case, the warming weather gets them going again, to start the cycle anew. And stink bugs are not the only insects that may startle you in the next few weeks. A variety of adult wasps and Lady Bugs do the same.
So be aware that the insect guests that you may not have invited or even known about are warming up and trying to get on with their lives. No need to squash them, mind you, just show them the door. They are still moving slow, so they are easy enough to catch in a cup or glass and taken outside – where they really want to be. And your hands won’t – well – smell funny 😊
Hope to see you in our great outdoors!!!