Stink bugs: the Hoover cure

1957-vintage-vacuum-cleaner-adThere must be more efficient ways of ridding a citrus tree of stink bugs than with a vacuum cleaner, but certainly none more satisfying. Thwok, they go as they hurtle up the tube. Thwok, thwok! A slurry of tinkling thwoks as a column of the little orange-backed bugs is sucked up the metal tunnel.

It doesn’t take long for the familiar odour to arise from those remaining. It’s certainly a sign of distress, and perhaps also a warning to others. The bugs on branches I haven’t reached yet start a steady march downwards to perceived safety (ha!), and I pick them off one by one, sniper-style, as they descend. Thwok. Thwok. Thwok. A more substantial thwunk as I get one of the big bronze ones, the adults. I think of these as breeding stock and the satisfaction ramps up a notch. They twitch their antlers briefly in confusion then they’re gone.

My feud with the stink bug (Musgraveia sulciventris) dates back to my childhood, when as small girls we would cower in the back of Cathy Hampson’s Dad’s shed, shrieking and pinching our noses as our brothers shoved handfuls of the squashed and reeking creatures under the locked door. These days it’s more an issue of embarrassment, as my neighbour plies me with baskets of perfectly unblemished, sweet mandarins while my citrus trees languish under the weight of the pongy invaders, refusing to yield. And fair enough too.

For those out there who wish to pursue this bizarre but rewarding technique, I recommend you protect yourself. A hat, safety goggles, long sleeves, pants and gloves. OK, it’s a sight, especially when you add the brandished metal hoover tube to the mix. (Through the branches of the orange tree I see my neighbour come out of her back door, start to approach, then turn and walk away, obviously thinking better of it). But the threatened stink bug can eject a foul smelling fluid that will burn human skin and can cause temporary blindness if you cop it in the eye.

Oh, a few more words of advice. Only try this with an old-style vacuum cleaner that takes disposable paper dust bags. If you take a break during the process, tape up the end of the tube with masking tape or the varmints may start to scuttle back out. Ditto for the hole in the dust bag, when you’re finished. Then bury the whole thing somewhere it’s not likely to be disturbed too soon.

Of course there’s always a spray bottle of pyrethrum. Organically-approved, simple, silent and quick. But not nearly as gratifying. Thwok.

I read this piece for Country Viewpoint on Radio National in September 2008.

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