The Nature Report: Stink Bug Self Defense

Courtesy of Nicholas Tillinghast

The stink bugs took a very short hiatus this winter. I have seen two in the past week, and I will recount one of those treacherous experiences. We were celebrating my roommate’s birthday last week in typical elementary school fashion: (the birthday boy provided the cupcakes). For entertainment, I turned on the Team USA ice hockey game. While we were watching this momentous event, a brown marmorated stink bug made his way onto the mini cupcake container. An uninvited party guest can often be trouble, and this was no different.

 I had to deal with this situation as soon as possible to maintain consistent birthday mirth, but not all insect threats are created equal. A shifty wasp might require a tennis racket and open space to properly handle, while a ladybug requires no action. A stink bug requires delicate maneuvering as  being stink-sprayed is a constant threat possibility. My initial thought was to knock it into a cup of soapy water and have the stink bug quietly drown. The problem then is that I would have a dead stink bug in my drinkware, which is something I would remember with future cup usage. 

Allen Hale ’25, an invited party guest, had a simpler idea. He suggested we simply remove the stink bug from the residence. As not to fuss with opening our own window, we took the cupcake container with the stink bug on it to the nearby bathroom. We brought it to the fourth and farthest stall, right by the window—the stall with a view. We opened the window up to the frosty air, and I beat the devil out of the cupcake container against the window frame, holding on tightly so as not to lose cupcakes to the forces of gravity. In retrospect, just flushing the stink bug down the toilet would have been equally sufficient, but here I was, dangling a cupcake container out of a fourth story window. I brought the container back in and checked the top. The stink bug was still there. I gave up. This was where Hale stepped in, who calmly assessed the situation and angled the lid up, knocking it against the window frame just one more time. And then it was gone, falling out into the winter air. After the fact, I asked Hale what he thought I did wrong in the moment. 

Courtesy of Nicholas Tillinghast

“I think that your distrust of the stink bugs ascended to the distrust of your own being. You didn’t feel like you could handle the issue of such a small, nonthreatening insect…you had a mental block in removing the stink bug,” he said. 

That may be so, but I’m left with a lot more questions than answers after that night. Where is that stink bug now? Can you call it a party if there are only three people there? Did the stink bug really ruin this birthday event? Or did it elevate it? In closing my brief conversation with Hale, I asked him if he had any advice on how people should defend against stink bugs in the future. “I think everyone should be confident in their own ability even if it’s a new skill … The most important thing is don’t hesitate, strike, take action first. Don’t get stinky.” Wise words. 

 In other late-winter news, besides the enjoyable/concerning swing of mild, 50-degree days this past month, the biggest sign of an impending spring is the renewed chatter of birds—I overheard a persistent chickadee call while picking up locust pods this past Friday. Additionally, the robins have, on occasion, returned to the green ground, continuing their perpetual search for the worms. While neither bird migrates, they’ve made their presence known once again with the coming spring.   

This past Wednesday, I got to experience some indoor nature. I went down a special staircase to a very special place below the Bridge. Some might call it the “Bio Greenhouse.” I call it “the greenhouse that’s actually heated in the winter.” Having now toured it, I must say they have some pretty neat plants there. Most notably they have a single very large lemon. I’m talkin’ eight inches in diameter. While far from world record status (29 inches), I was still significantly impressed.

Courtesy of Nicholas Tillinghast

I also discovered that an apparent bunch of sticks can be a living thing sometimes. This particular plant looked like a bunch of sticks and felt like a bunch of sticks, but it was not a bunch of sticks. It was alive. Some organisms use bright colors to tell predators not to eat them; others turn into a bunch of sticks. As not to reveal all of the Bio Greenhouse, I will conclude with just one last plant of note. It was a fairly standard-looking plant, but it had a fragrant scent of a pineapple, a scent far more appealing than that of a pesky stink bug. Most importantly, it was a scent that didn’t make me wanna toss the plant out of a fourth floor bathroom window in Main. Ah, the duality of nature’s smells. 

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