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Climate Change Stinks

The brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) has descended on the shores of Lake Michigan. After a sustained high wind out of the northwest, a multitude of the invasive insects found refuge on the lake's southeastern shore. On the morning of October 10, 2023, individual BMSBs were distributed across the sand while clusters of the invaders clung to the uppermost tips of logs, rocks, and debris to escape the roiling surf.

Large waves along shoreline with stink bugs on dry sand.
Black dots above the waterline are individual stink bugs distributed along the shoreline.

Mixed among the stink bugs were cucumber beetles , with Striped Yellow Cucumber Beetles (Acalymma vittatum) and Spotted Yellow Cucumber Beetles (Diabrotica undecimpunctata). They, too, are invasive and threaten the seedlings, transplants, and fruit of gardens and crops. The invaders, alive but sluggish, were ubiquitous in the sand and up the first few feet of shoreline revetment.

Cluster of yellow beetles and brown stink bugs
Cucumber beetles mixed with stink bugs atop a shoreside rock.

In October, 2022, CBS News reported, "Invasive stink bugs could make life a lot smellier in the northern U.S. as climate change expands their habitat, study suggests." The report cited a study in Pest Management Science which modeled the expansion of the BMSB range from the southern East Coast where BMSBs first infiltrated to other suitable climates. In particular the study predicted the Great Lakes region would be highly impacted, with an increase in population of up to 70% before the numbers stabilize.

Two models showed "predicted change in habitat suitability for Halyomorpha halys in the 2080s compared to current conditions." In both scenarios, the Lake Michigan shoreline experiences the greatest increase in suitability. While much of the world experienced it's hottest summer ever, the Great Lakes have seen less severe obvious impacts from the real but politically taboo climate crisis. However, if you were to ask what might a warming climate might mean for the lower Great Lakes, add to the list stink bug infestations.

Map shows lower Great Lake and West Coast with increased habitat suitability.
Two models suggest expanding range of stink bugs due to climate change. Image: Javier Gutiérrez Illán, et. al.

Stink bugs seek cracks and crevices to hide in during the winter, so the EPA emphasizes caulking windows, weatherstripping, and screening the tops of chimneys. Though a nuisance once they congregate inside a dwelling, "These pests will not cause structural damage or reproduce in homes."

Dome of solid stink bugs and cucumber beetles.
Live stink bugs and cucumber beetles cluster on a beachside rock above the wave action.

Stink bugs on sand and in clusters atop rock
Stink bugs descendend onto Lake Michigan beach and sought refuge on rocks above surf.

I don't purport to know how the influx of invasive stink bugs and cucumber beetles occurred overnight in the midst of big lake weather. However, if the aforementioned study is correct, one thing is certain. Climate change stinks.


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