‘Kudzu bug’ has appetite for Southern crops, causing uneasiness

11/18/2011 06:18:00 PM
Vicky Boyd

An insect that feeds on the aggressive kudzu plant may sound like the answer to weed-control prayers, but there’s a devilish catch. The kudzu bug, as this non-native insect is called, also feeds on cultivated legumes, such as soybeans, snap beans, lima beans and flat beans.

“It’s a shame it moves over to so many other hosts,” says Greg Hodges, Florida Division of Plant Industry bureau chief for pest diagnostics, in Gainesville.

The bug, sometimes referred to as the bean plataspid, also has been found to reproduce on wisteria, a genus of leguminous landscape plants considered weeds by many, says Wayne Gardner, an entomology professor at the University of Georgia in Griffin.

“We’re getting a lot of reports on wisteria and of [the kudzu bug] surviving really well on it,” he says.

In addition, the kudzu bug has been found on eggplant and corn, although those crops probably won’t support reproductive populations, says Stormy Sparks, an entomology professor at the University of Georgia in Tifton.

“It’s attracted to vertical surfaces,” Sparks says. “Corn’s not a host, and that’s probably what’s happening with the eggplant. It’s probably in the area where beans are planted. That’s what I’m hoping.”

Whether the pest feeds on peanuts, another legume, remains unknown, Sparks says, adding the host range is just one of many questions that researchers hope to answer in the coming months.

“I don’t think peanuts look all that promising [as a host], which is good news,” he says. “But it’s a legume, so it’s something we’re still keeping an eye on.”

An Asian native

The kudzu bug, also dubbed the globular stink bug or lablab bug, is native to Asia, the Indian subcontinent and Australia. In Asia, it is a pest of economic concern.

It was first confirmed in the United States in Barrow County, Ga., in 2009.

Known scientifically as Megacopta cribraria, the pest has since spread and is currently found throughout all of South Carolina; much of Georgia and North Carolina; seven to eight counties in Alabama; and the Blue Ridge Mountain area of Virginia, Gardner says.

Immature kudzu bugs have been found in pick-up truck beds, suggesting they may be expanding their range through hitchhiking, Hodges says.

Kudzu bugs have yet to be confirmed in Florida, although they’ve has been found in the extreme northern portion of neighboring Ware County, Ga.

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