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Why stink bug populations are booming (and what you can do about it)

That funny stench could be your first clue.
Stink bugs
Stink bugs gravitate toward homes with a heavy tree canopy, and hang out on the upper floors.Alamy Stock Photo
/ Source: TODAY

A "stink bug" sounds like an insult from a fifth-grader, but it's a real insect posing a real problem to homeowners across the country.

Stink bugs don't sting, bite or carry disease. But they do, um, stink. Badly. And once you notice them in your home — and trust us, you'll notice — it's too late to do a whole lot about them.

Peter Jentsch, an entomologist from Cornell University, gave TODAY Home the scoop on where these smelly pests come from, how they operate and what we can do about them (including a do-it-yourself booby trap for stink-free capture!).

Stink bug how to deal
Here to stink up your home!Alamy Stock Photo

Jentsch explained that the BMSB (brown marmorated stink bug), which is native to Asia but common across the U.S., goes through population cycles every couple of years. Fluctuations between warm temperatures and plummeting cold in 2015 left stink bug populations unprepared for freezing winter temperatures, causing the population to dwindle.

Now, the survivors are rebounding — hard — particularly in moist, temperate climates like those on the Eastern seaboard and in the Pacific Northwest. After spending spring and summer feasting outdoors, stink bugs seek shelter from the elements — by making their way into homes through cracks, open windows and air-conditioning vents.

They tend to gravitate toward homes with a heavy tree canopy, and hang out on the upper floors. So if you spot flat brown bugs crawling along your bedroom ceiling or flitting around your attic — or catch a whiff of something fruity and foul — it's officially time to panic.

About that stench — what Jentsch describes as a the stink bug's "Chanel No. 5" — descriptions vary from cilantro to rotting almonds to bad fruit. Either way, it's an unpleasant, sightly sweet smell that stink bugs release when disturbed, threatened or squashed — which means it's in your best interest to find another way to deal with them instead of grabbing the nearest heavy-soled shoe.

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In agricultural settings, farmers use insecticide-treated netting or predatory insects to control the stink bug population. For homeowners, your best bet is keeping them from getting inside in the first place. Jentsch recommends doing some serious caulking and screening before cold weather hits (especially in older homes, which may be less airtight than newer models) and having an exterminator give the exterior a preventative spray for those moving into new properties.

If you do spot them in your home, resist the urge to smash or vacuum the critters, which will unleash the icky stench! Instead, make a DIY booby trap by cutting the funnel-shaped top off a plastic soda bottle, inverting it and using tape to secure it to the bottle's sides to use it as a capture device. Once the stink bugs are inside, you can place the bottle in the freezer (which will kill them within an hour) or simply flush the bugs down the toilet.

You can even become a citizen scientist to help Cornell researchers study BMSB populations, and commission your very own parasitic Asian wasp to guard your yard. They've been shown to reduce stink bug populations by up to 50 percent.

Or, you know, try the soda bottle thing. Up to you.

This story was originally published on Oct. 19, 2017.