Thursday, October 13, 2011

Watch Where You...

…land, stink bug! Those were the words I verbally spoke when a Brown Marmorated stink bug alighted on my t-shirt by my left shoulder over a month ago. It was not the first or only stink bug to land on one of my shoulders, nor the only type of bug, but, nonetheless, they all met the same fate.
                Now that it is October, and after experiencing an earthquake, hurricane and tropical storm, not that those natural occurrences have anything to do with the topic, it seems to be an appropriate time to report on the state of stink bugs on the farm, and in particular the Brown Marmorated stink bug.
                First off, there are many, many types of stink bugs in our region, and this year in particular, the rainbow display of varying types made their appearance in full force. From the normal brown variety, to the Southern green, to the Rough stink bug, to the vibrantly colored Harlequin stink bugs all made a solid appearance in 2011. They feasted on… everything! This year the populations were larger than normal, but it was by no means in epidemic proportions.
                Second, as for the Brown Marmorated variety, the non-native, Asian species, that was feared to defoliate the east coast… Okay, maybe that is going a bit far, but nonetheless, they were feared to appear in incredible numbers this year. I am only speaking of Nev-R-Dun Farm at this point, which has quite a healthy bird population, and bird’s love stink bugs… to eat that is, but while there were noticeable numbers of those beasts, those numbers were not significantly higher than in past years. In doors, now that is another situation entirely.
                So, after 20 weeks of harvest, the assessment is that stink bugs are relatively in check at the farm. For the most part, they thrive amongst weeds that act as protection from prey, such as birds, or me. Once weeds are removed, the numbers are significantly lower. In other words, weed removal needs to be improved. But that will have to wait until next year.
                But now back to the beginning of the entry. “Watch where you land, stink bug!” I have witnessed a couple of new things this year about stink bugs. The first I will come back to in a minute, but the second reflects upon the title of this entry. At least a half a dozen times this summer, I heard the familiar “buzz” sound of a stink bug draw near, and then witness that creature land on my shoulder! It did not happen only once. Through my scientific approach to all things natural, if events or situations repeat themselves, those events or situations are most likely not random. But why do they land on my shoulder? It is quite strange.
                Before I continue, at least a half a dozen other times this year, I witnessed the same situation with squash bugs. They too landed on my shoulder. Squash bugs are closely related to stink bugs, so, deduction would state that something with those particular type of bugs are attracted to a human’s shoulder. But perhaps it is only my shoulder that attracts them. (Don’t tell any of the Extension Office people. They’ll start wheeling me through every orchard on the East Coast hoping for a new means of extermination. Ugh, what a thought!) Perhaps also, it could have something to do with my wardrobe, which for the entire summer consists of a white t-shirt. Are they attracted to white?
                Oh so many questions arise, with little hope of drawing a significant conclusion at this time. Nonetheless, this strange trait of theirs has been noted. Perhaps in the future more conclusions will be drawn. As for now, I will return to the first new situation I witnessed about stink bugs this year. All but one of the stink bugs and squash bugs that landed on my t-shirt met a quick death through the use of TFF. (For those unfamiliar with TFF, that stands for “thumb and forefinger”, which is completely acceptable by organic standards.) The first stink bug to land on my shoulder this year met a different fate. Allow me to explain a little first.
                I have researched stink bugs many, many times over the years, and on more than a few occasions I read that a person should wear gloves when dealing with those creatures because they can burn a human’s skin. Preposterous! I have squished countless thousands of those things, and countless thousands of their kin the squash bugs. Burn the skin? Never! Whoever wrote that obviously does not know what they were talking about!
                Those were my thoughts before this year. In fact, to back up those thoughts, stink bugs are considered a delicacy in different areas of the earth… that is, a HUMAN delicacy. They are a bird delicacy everywhere! If dealing with those bugs caused irritation… how would the activity of eating them work? Something like hot peppers?… Ah… perhaps something just like that, but back to that first stink bug.
                Let’s say it was late July. It was hot, the sun was “beating” down, and the sound of a stink bug in flight neared. My activity was that of weeding a row of beets, those delicious red and gold beets, that… Where was I? Oh yeah. Thoughts were aflutter as a stink bug landed just below my left shoulder on the white t-shirt I was wearing. Damn stink bugs, I thought, and without a moment’s hesitation, my right hand smashed the bug against my t-shirt, thus killing it instantly as its carcass fell to the dirt as future fertilizer. One less stink bug in the world. Hurrah! And then, a minute or so later, I felt a slight burning sensation just below the top of my left shoulder. Why that was exactly where I smashed that stink bug! I lifted my T-shirt to look under it, but saw nothing. However, later that night, as that slight burning sensation still lingered, there was a noticeable red spot on my skin, sort of like a grave stone for that dead stink bug. And that red spot remained visible for over a week!
                Could it be? Could it really be true that squashed stink bugs can cause skin irritation? Perhaps all those I scoffed at were correct in their assessment of stink bug goo. It burns! I would love to concretely deposit a law about stink bug innards causing skin irritation, but, alas, I only smashed one on my more delicate skin areas. I learned my lesson too quickly! But nonetheless, it does make sense about the skin irritation. And the reason why the TFF approach, that is the smashing of stink bugs between one’s fingers, does not cause skin irritation would be along the same line as chile peppers. They do not burn my fingers. Either through calluses or something else, I can pick and squish chile peppers without any sense of burning as a result. Others merely touch them and they feel their burn. So, perhaps, just perhaps it is true, stink bug innards can cause skin irritation. (If anyone wishes to do a test on themselves with this, please let me know your results.)
                But now back to the beginning again. After all, this entire entry to this point is completely superfluous to my initial intention. That intention was to alert the stink bugs, and squash bugs for that matter, that all landing zones in a garden are not necessarily safe places to alight, such as my t-shirt. Really, the whole point of this entry was to alert those damned stink bugs, “Hey, watch where you land!”

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