MANTUA, N.J. (CBS) - This could be a banner year – for Asian stink bugs.
Some experts say the bugs are primed to bug us in a big way this spring, perhaps in record numbers.
"It's definitely an epidemic," said Mike Jenzano with Hoffman's Exterminating in Mantua, N.J.
Thanks to last week's brief warm-up, Jenzano has already started getting some calls from homeowners who are seeing the shield-shaped stinkers.
Experts say the Asian stink bugs (known more technically as the Brown Marmorated variety) thrived during our long, hot summer last year. And our steadily cold winter might also have helped boost their numbers because the bugs were not fooled into coming out into the elements too early where they would have died.
"It could definitely lead to a larger population," said Michelle Niedermeier, an entomologist with Pennsylvania Integrated Pest Management in Philadelphia. "In the last, probably five years, there's been an increasing number."
That means thousands of them could be hibernating in homes across the Delaware Valley waiting for slightly warmer temperatures. They are most likely found in attics and crawl spaces near the roofs of homes. If you see one, there are likely hundreds more still in hibernation because they tend to swarm together.
The bugs are believed to have first arrived in our area in Allentown in 1996. They likely came in on an overseas cargo ship and have no natural predators here. They can be devastating to fruit crops, especially peaches and apples.
"Depending on the size of the farm, it can be a serious problem," said Niedermeier, who works with farmers to help mitigate the pests. "There are some farmers, if they have one more bad year, they might not be in farming anymore."
Which would mean 2011 might not be such a banner year for some farmers.
The good news for homeowners, though, they are generally harmless, except when they are squashed. That's when they emit a strong, pungent odor.
Some experts recommend vacuuming up the bugs, then emptying the canister or bag outside. To prevent future infestations, make sure your doors and windows are well-caulked and sealed.
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Reported By Ben Simmoneau, CBS Philly
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