When Manager Cindy McFarland went to open up the Miller’s Travel Center Chevron in Smithfield on Wednesday morning, something really bugged her.
“I came in to unlock the doors this morning, and I could see these little green bugs all around the lock,” McFarland said. “And I didn’t want to put my key in there because it was gross.”
Readers reported hundreds of the green bugs at the gas station, clumping up on gas pumps, garbage cans and elsewhere.
The green bugs, which have multifaceted backs with four lighter dots in a triangle and a darker section on the lower back, appear to be Say’s stink bugs, according to USU entomologist Ricardo Ramirez. A number of environmental factors have made this an interesting year for some bugs, including a wet spring, a delayed start to summer and sporadic cooling rains.
“Back in end of June, we actually saw large populations of the Say’s stink bug on small grains, actually at high levels,” Ramirez said. “And they kind of concentrate.”
One reason for that, Ramirez said, is an “aggregation pheromone” the bugs produce. It’s not the chemical that causes their characteristic stink — and thankfully for the Smithfield gas station, McFarland said several hours into the morning that nobody had reported smelling the insect’s natural defense mechanism. Customers definitely noticed the bugs, though, and kept asking about them throughout the morning, McFarland said.
“They’re all over everything, on top of each other, piled, all over the garbage cans, in the pump buckets, where they wash their windows,” McFarland said. “All over the back of the place. They’re just in clusters.”
Cache Valley residents may be more familiar with this behavior in box elder bugs, which are also part of the “true bug” taxonomic order of insects along with stink bugs.
“There are some people that get a lot of box elder bugs on south facing walls and these sorts of things, where it’s warm,” Ramirez said. “You can get large populations.”
Ramirez pointed out that according to recent news from the other end of the state, stink bug problems could be worse than a couple hundred loitering at a gas station.
Much, much worse. Videos from St. George late last month show thousands on thousands of the stink bugs swarming on walls and other surfaces.
In a story on their stink bug incidents, Southern Utah University associate biology professor Bill Heyborne suggested such buggy behavior may be on the uptick.
“Truth be told, if you talk to other entomologists around the world, they’re seeing more and more of these sorts of outbreaks,” Heyborne told the St. George News. “And so there is some conversation about, is this related to climate change or not? We don’t really know the answer to that. But I guess time will tell.”
Closer to home but north of the state border, Mormon cricket swarms were reported in Franklin County this July.
Reports of similar events aren’t to say that even the Smithfield Chevron should get too used to the insects.
“With these populations, they’ll probably stick around for, I would imagine, another week or two, and then they just kind of move on,” Ramirez said.
People can spray the bugs, but often once they start to aggregate in a location, additional waves might keep coming in, and then in addition to thousands of live insects on various surfaces, you’ll have thousands of dead insects on the ground to sweep up.
Most of the stink bugs seen Wednesday look like adults, Ramirez said, so they’ll be looking to feed a bit and find a good place to overwinter so they can lay eggs next spring.
At the very least, they made a trip to the pump a bit more surreal for a few Cache Valley residents on Wednesday.
“I just was like, ‘what happened?’” McFarland said. “This wasn’t here yesterday, and there are just all of a sudden millions of them. … I wonder if they’ll be gone tomorrow. I keep wondering, because it’s so odd.”