A brown marmorated stink bug caught Michael Raupp's attention as it wandered around the spindly trunk of a zelkova tree. Lately, the entomologist has been noticing the pests everywhere — even on the small species of elm growing in front of a Columbia coffee shop.

Raupp, a University of Maryland professor and "Bug of the Week" blogger who lives in Columbia, says stink bugs "are going to be big" in a couple of weeks. The half-inch, shield-shaped critters will be making their presence known in Howard County and elsewhere from mid-September through the end of October, when the first frost of autumn blankets the ground.

The much-hated insects, which have been busy destroying crops everywhere, will begin seeking out places like homeowners' attics where they can "kick back and live off the fat" they've been ingesting, very much like bears hibernating for the winter, he said.

And when spring rolls around, their numbers will likely be twice what they were last year, he said, though he's hardly put off by the "ick factor" that accompanies that image for most people. A praying mantis peers out from a terrarium on his kitchen counter, nourished by the stink bugs that Raupp has collected and fed to it.

"My wife is also an entomologist," the extension specialist said with a broad smile. "Who else would understand?"

Actually, plenty of people would, say those who've witnessed his love for bugs firsthand.

"Whenever he gives a talk, it's a home run," said Jon Traunfeld, director of the Home and Garden Information Center located at the UM extension campus off Folly Quarter Road in western Howard County. "Here's a guy who's a full professor with a national and international reputation, yet he has a real zeal for teaching, and gets his audience laughing and engaged," he said. "He's a real gem."

'Proud to be wacky'

Raupp learned nearly everything he needed to guide his decisions in life as a young boy growing up in mining country in rural New Jersey, he says.

He did farm chores, learned to swim in a 50-degree mill pond, and had the run of fields and streams in his backyard, he said. His mother's sage advice back then was simple: "Go outside and play." And that's his mantra to this day.

Raupp got another formative dose of wisdom as a senior at Rutgers University, where he'd changed his major from biochemistry to pre-medicine to pre-veterinary to animal science. After amassing quite a few more credits than needed to graduate, he was summoned to an administrator's office and told he was being "kicked out," he said.

He took to heart the well-meaning suggestion that it was time for him to move on, and enrolled in the college's entomology program. A profession in which he'd be paid to soak up fresh air and pick up bugs sounded like a fine idea.

Yet even now, as a 59-year-old father of three grown children, he remains a proponent of the broad-based education he got by doing things his way.

"The broad training I received made me fluent in many realms of science," he said and accounts, in part, for his popularity on such national TV programs as "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show," and locally as a speaker at the Howard County Conservancy.

But he says the secret to becoming a sought-after guest who can bring insect knowledge to the masses lies in his inventive approach.

One of his first appearances on TV was in 2004, when "GMA" put out feelers for someone who could address the onslaught of 17-year cicadas in Maryland.

When the morning-program interviewer learned cicadas were considered a delicacy by some and asked Raupp if he would eat one, he popped it in his mouth, crunched down and chewed up the 3-inch-long specimen.

While guest spots are a lot of fun, Raupp said, they also give him the chance to translate for lay audiences "all the cool elements of animal behavior, like predation and mating and all that murder and mayhem."

That kind of outreach also furthers his career goal of helping people find environmentally sustainable ways to manage pests, which make up a mere 5 percent of the 2 million species of insects, he said.