Shield-shaped and slightly smelly, stink bugs can be found on almost every continent. The stink bug’s distinctive body shape may make them seem easy to identify, but there are several other insect species that look mighty similar.
A simple case of mistaken identity among bugs may not seem like a big deal, but some of these look-a-likes (like the kissing bug) can bite, while stink bugs themselves can cause major damage to plants.
As the weather begins to warm up and bugs become more abundant, learning to tell these critters apart can be important for keeping your home, family, and garden safe.
What does a stink bug look like?
First thing’s first: what does a stink bug look like?
While there are several different species of stink bug, the one you’re most likely to encounter in North America is the brown marmorated stink bug.
Though native to Asia, this invasive species found its way to the states in 2001 and has become widespread throughout the country. Brown marmorated stink bugs are an important crop pest of a wide range of plant species, but they don’t bite or spread diseases.
Brown marmorated stink bugs can be recognized by their shield-shaped bodies, which have mottled brown, cream and black coloring. They also have bands of alternating cream and dark markings around the edges of their bodies.
Other types of stink bug that are commonly found in North America include:
- Green stink bug (Chinavia hilaris)
- Brown stink bug (Euschistus servus)
- One-spotted stink bug (Euschistus variolarius)
- Red-shouldered stink bug (Thyanta custator acerra)
Other bugs that look like stink bugs
Stink bugs may appear easy to identify, but there are actually several insects that look like stink bugs. While many of these are harmless, others can deliver a nasty bite and may even transmit diseases.
Perhaps the most important stink bug lookalike to be aware of is the kissing bug. Also known as Triatominae or vampire bugs, these insects do bite and usually go for the face (hence the name).
Their bites are not especially painful, but some kissing bugs carry the Trypanosoma cruzi parasite, which is deposited in their feces If the poop of an infected bug gets into the wound they make when they bite you, the parasite can enter your bloodstream and cause Chagas disease, a potentially serious illness that can also affect dogs.
How can you tell a kissing bug from a stink bug?
Kissing bugs are often mistaken for stink bugs because of the shape and color of their bodies. Take a closer look, however, and you’ll notice some key differences that can help you to tell the two apart.
- Kissing bugs have cone-shaped heads.
- These bugs are also smaller than stink bugs.
- And kissing bugs have yellow, orange or red markings on their bodies.
Western conifer seed bugs
Western conifer seed bugs are often mistaken for stink bugs, primarily because they, too, give off a foul smell when they feel threatened. They also look rather a lot like the kissing bug, but they do not bite or sting humans or animals.
This doesn’t mean they aren’t a nuisance though. Western conifer seed bugs tend to invade buildings in winter and, with their pungent odor and noisy, buzzing flight, are annoying houseguests.
How can you tell a Western conifer seed bug from a stink bug?
Western conifer seed bugs aren’t crop pests like stink bugs. Nor do they bite, like the kissing bug. However, they do look similar to both, so how can you recognize a Western conifer seed bug when you see one?
- Western conifer seed bugs have a distinctive, ‘leaf-like’ shape to their back legs.
- Western conifer seed bugs have a faint, white, zig-zag stripe on their backs.
- Western conifer seed bugs have bright, orange-yellow patches on their backs (though these are under their wings and only visible during flight).
Boxelder bugs are often confused with stink bugs because of the foul odor they emit when squished. They are generally harmless and do not bite, sting, or transmit diseases.
However, they do feed on certain fruits and, in large numbers, can be a significant problem for crop farmers. They are also an occasional nuisance in homes, as their excrement can stain the fabric of clothing or furnishings. Fortunately, boxelder bugs do not breed indoors and are unlikely to form an infestation. Individuals should be removed carefully though, as they give off a nasty smell when crushed.
How can you tell a boxelder bug from a stink bug?
- Boxelder bugs have oval-shaped bodies, while stink bugs are shield-shaped
- Boxelder bugs are slightly smaller and have thinner bodies than stink bugs
- Boxelder bugs have orange or red markings on their backs and stink bugs do not
There are several insect species that look like stink bugs and, as the weather starts to warm up, it’s important that you learn to tell them apart.
The most common stink bug lookalikes native to North America are the Kissing bug, the Western conifer seed bug, and the Boxelder bug.
In most cases, these bugs are completely harmless (unless you happen to be a fruit), though they can become a nuisance when they come indoors. Like stink bugs, both the Western conifer seed bug and the Boxelder bug can emit nasty odors but neither of these species bite or sting.
The kissing bug, however, does bite and can transmit potentially harmful parasites when it does so. The best way to tell them apart from stink bugs is to look for the cone-shaped head and the red, orange or yellow markings that characterize the kissing bug.