Some winter house guests less charming than others

One of the things I like best about living in the North is watching the seasons come and go and change throughout the year.

In March I love to look for the first, subtle clues that spring is on its way. The lengthening days, steam rising from maple sugar houses and the first red-winged blackbirds are all classic signs of early spring. Another, less charming, sign is the awakening of the various bugs that have been overwintering in my house.

I’ll see the occasional cluster fly during the winter, but on a sunny day in March my windows become full of them, buzzing and searching for a way back outside. One quick trick if you’re home during the day is to just crack the windows they are buzzing in and they will quickly find their way out to die in the cold. As the sun moves around the house during the day, keep opening the sunny windows and close them as the sun moves away.


Cluster flies are just one of several insects that like to overwinter inside our homes. Boxelder bugs, paper wasps and ladybugs are other common examples. None of these eat your food, transmit disease, breed or multiply in your house, even though it seems like their numbers increase through the winter. They are masters at finding cracks and voids to hibernate in. The warmth of late winter sun on the walls and window frames of your house wakes them up, and they start looking for a way outside.

Another bug that has been on the rise over the past several years around here is the western conifer seed bug. It’s a member of the larger stinkbug group, and many folks call it a stink bug since it does give off an odor when crushed, but it is not accurately a stink bug. It feeds on pine and fir cones and is just visiting your house for the winter. It is large, just over an inch long, and slow moving, so it’s easy to spot on your walls.

There is no need to spray insecticides inside your house to kill these bugs as they emerge, you can just sweep or vacuum them up and toss them outdoors. Yes, it’s a daily task, sometimes more than once a day, but they are a nuisance, not harmful.

Unfortunately, there is a new bug gradually coming to our area that is going to make these previous bugs seem very tame: the brown marmorated stink bug. We have green and brown stink bugs as a minor pest in vegetable and fruit crops, but this new one is much more serious. There is an excellent article by Kathryn Schulz on it in the March 12, 2018, issue of The New Yorker magazine. I urge anyone who’s curious to learn more to find a copy of this issue and read her article. It contains a lot of detail, and the author has an engaging writing style that make it a pleasure to read.

We confirmed the first siting of the brown marmorated stink bug last fall, found on a porch on Cumberland Head, near Plattsburgh. We expect it will be years before it increases to levels to cause problems, but it is on its way. So many people call the western conifer seed bug a stink bug, things are going to be confusing for a while until we can all learn to be more specific.


When in doubt, you can drop off a sample at any Cornell Cooperative Extension office or email them a photo. We are curious to know where this new brown marmorated stink bug is showing up, so we would appreciate seeing any suspicious samples.


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