There was a scream upstairs and then a yell for mom. It sounded like another teenage moment so I kept my nose in my book downstairs. A few minutes later my wife showed up at the table with a pair of underwear in her hands. “Can you tell me what this is,” she asked. I thought about telling her it was indeed a pair of dirty underwear, but her white knuckled grasp of it was an indication that this was no time to be smart-alecky. She loosened her grip a bit and there in her hand was what appeared to be a Hemiptera. The odor it was emitting was quite pungent when I grabbed it and put it to my nose. Now I was really interested.
What my girls had found crawling on the wall was a Western Conifer Seed Bug (Leptoglossus occidentalis). This bug was originally a Pacific Northwest species, but it has been moving eastward for the last 100 years. Our winter guest is in the family of squash bugs or leaf-footed bugs, named for the leaf-like flattened extensions on their hind legs. Nationwide, there are 88 species of leaf-footed bugs. All of them feed on plants. Our little friend enjoys the sap from developing pinecones.
It was very tame and easily handled. They are not poisonous and they don’t cause any damage. They’re just trying to get out of the cold. Normally, they winter under tree bark or crevice near the evergreens they feed on. There is a Red Pine tree right beside our house, so it wandered in somehow.
That scent I smelled? It was an alarm pheromone that is secreted from glands and consists mostly of hexyl acetate, which is often used in the creation of fragrances and flavor manufacturing, as well as hexanal, which is used to make fruity flavors in foods.
This bug was a lucky one. I put him outside on the pine tree and far away from the underpants monster.
Have you found this insect or other species in Vermont? Perhaps you’d like to add your observations to iNaturalist Vermont, a project of the Vermont Atlas of Life. There are ten sightings of Western Conifer Seed Bug reported so far.