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Keep an eye (and nose) out for this stinker

What barges into your house uninvited, camps out for the winter and quickly raises a stink?

In-laws may be the right answer for some, but not for Jim LaBonte.

A taxonomic entomologist with the Oregon Department of Agriculture, he is looking for brown marmorated stink bugs, exotic pests that could be a threat to Oregon's agricultural crops.

Ever since one was caught in a trap in August in a residential area of Portland, the first ever found west of the Mississippi, LaBonte has been asking Oregonians statewide to keep their eyes peeled ' and noses sniffing ' for the smelly pest.

These visitors stink from day one, he said, noting they survive the winter as adults by entering houses through cracks in the window frames or foundation.

— They crawl in cracks and crevasses, nooks and crannies, he said. And they can gather by the hundreds if not thousands.

In addition to being smelly domestic guests, they can cause significant damage to Oregon crops if they are allowed to gain a foothold in the state, he warned.

Originally from Asia, the bug known by scientists as feeds on a wide range of vegetables and fruits, including apples, peaches and pears, scientists report. The bug eats tiny holes in the fruit.

Oregon already has about four dozen native species of stink bugs, but this one has no natural predator, parasites or diseases that would control the population, he said.

Until the one was found in a trap set up for exotic wood-boring insects in Portland, it had only been found in a half-dozen East Coast states where it was first discovered in 2001, he said.

It could have hitch-hiked west aboard a truck or other vehicle, he said.

As a defensive mechanism, the bugs emit a smell which LaBonte describes as the odor of oily dirty socks.

They have a pair of glands underside that, when disturbed by what they think is a predator, release an oil substance that spreads underneath their body.

However, if they gather in large numbers in a home, they wouldn't have to be disturbed to stink, he said.

You'd probably smell them anyway, he said.

The adult insects, which he described as a half-inch long and about as wide, are survivors, he said.

They are amazingly resourceful, he said. They don't eat in winter. They lower their metabolism and reduce their activity to exist on fat reserves they accumulate during summer.

The insects fly as well as crawl, he said.

If we are really lucky and find them confined to a couple residences, we might be able to stop them, he said.

But if people throughout Oregon start finding them, then we know the cat's out of the bag, he added. And it's probably been out of the bag for quite a while.

For further information, visit .

To report what appears to be one of the bugs, call the Oregon invasive species hotline at 1-866-INVADER.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at

Brown marmorated stink bug