Kentuckians Consider Them Smelly Pests, but Stink Bugs are Actually Beneficial to the Environment
It is Stink Bug season here in the Tri-State, so I am sure you have seen those pesky little buggers start to make their appearance. We don't seem to have too big of a problem with them in my neighborhood, and to be honest, now that I think of it, I don't know that I have ever encountered a time where I had to squish one.
I've heard they smell pretty gross though. Ammonia, Sulfur, Cilantro, and rancid meat, are all things used to describe the scent of the pungent odor they give off. This is a defense mechanism they use to ward off predators or call other stink bugs to their aid if attacked.
Now, they can make themselves comfortable in your home as the weather gets cold and they seek a warm place to live. I'm not a huge fan of that thought, but I do know that they serve a purpose in nature. Even though they can be pests, they are also beneficial to the environment and I recently learned a really interesting way they can improve the lives of humans.
Stink Bugs Eat Harmful Pests
While there are some stink bugs that like to nibble on plants, there are also some species that protect them. According to Orkin Pest Control, "A few species of stink bug are predators of other insects. These predatory stink bugs can actually help protect crops against destructive pests. They eat caterpillars, beetles and even plant-feeding stink bugs."
Stink Bugs Feed Other Important Bugs
The plant-feeding stink bugs mentioned also serve a purpose. When they munch on growing crops or trees, it helps other insects like wasps or ants find food. The damaged plant will secrete sap or whatever moisture is inside and it wafts in the air attracting other bugs like wasps, ants, and other pollinators making it easier for them to feed. Entomology Today states that
"The invasive brown marmorated stink bug, H. halys, is economically damaging and has the potential to introduce disease to woody trees as it feeds. Resources made available by its feeding, however, directly increase the carbohydrate resources available to insects that are known to provide important ecological services, including biological control of pests and the pollination of plants. H. halys may therefore have an indirect positive role in invaded ecosystems, in addition to its direct negative effect on plants.”
Of course, stink bugs are also food for other bugs as well. In that way, they are an important part of the food chain.
Stink Bugs Help Plants
By adapting to interactions with stink bugs, plants can become stronger. It's almost like they learn how to protect themselves from the pests that may come along to bother them. An entomologist with A-Z Animals has this to say about how stink bugs can benefit plants,
"In addition to the animals that hunt stink bugs, other organisms in the environment can benefit from them as well. For example, some plants create new defense mechanisms and adaptations in response to attack by stink bugs. Plants defend themselves by using chemicals as weapons, trapping their attackers, and even attracting natural enemies of their predators.
Stink bugs can also be beneficial to plants in the form of pollination. Stink bugs are known to feed on nectar from certain flowers, and while doing so, they transfer pollen grains between them, helping to further spread the plant species."
Stink Bugs are a Nutrient Rich Food for Humans
And get this! There are some parts of the world where humans eat stink bugs as a source of protein and other nutrients. A study done in 2016 found that there are some parts of rural Africa that consume a certain species of stink bug found there.
“Our research showed that the edible stink bug, which is known scientifically as Encosternum delegorguei Spinola, and in some parts of southern Africa as thongolifha, contains vital nutritional components. We found the bug to be a rich source of fatty acids, including seven that are considered essential for human nutrition and health. The insect also contains some flavonoids, a nutrient group most famous for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory health benefits,” explains icipe scientist, Prof. Baldwyn Torto.
He adds: “The edible stink bug provides 12 amino acids, two of which are often lacking in the predominantly cereal-based diets consumed in many parts of Africa. The insect also contains high crude protein and fats, and although it is not a great source of minerals, it contains phosphorus in relatively high levels.”
So stink bugs aren't all bad! Some of them definitely play an important role in our ecosystem even if they are annoying and smelly.
Quiz: Do you know your state insect?
Gallery Credit: Andrew Vale