The kudzu bug, a pest of mostly legumes, continues to move north, having most recently been found in five Maryland counties.
Although the pest has an affinity to its namesake, kudzu, and soybeans, it also can feed on other vegetable crops, such as lima beans, runner beans and string beans, according to a news release.
The damage to the vegetable crops is most notable in early spring or late fall when kudzu and soybeans may not be available.
Little is known about the behavior of the kudzu bug in the United States since it is native to India and China.
But Xing Ping Hu, an Auburn University entomology professor and an Alabama Cooperative Extension entomologist, plans to conduct research to obtain a clear picture of the pest's feeding habits and effective control strategies and methods.
She has received two grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture totaling $80,000 to help fund her efforts.
One item she's already noted is the bug's remarkable ability to adapt to new environments.
Since it's first detection in 2009, the bug has moved from an urban nuisance to a serious bean crop pest throughout the Southeast.
The bug's also been found on Queen Anne's Lace, a common weed found along Alabama roadsides. She suspects they feed on the plant to sustain long migratory flights.
Hu also has noted the bug's penchant for long beans and green beans.
“If a kudzu bug population grows large enough, it’s capable of wiping out these two crops,” Hu said in the release. “In fact, we have photos showing as many as 50 bugs on only one long bean pod.”
In addition, Hu has found that females can store sperm over the winter and can be released to fertilize eggs.
One of the biggest breakthroughs so far is a native parasitoid found in the guts of several kudzu bugs.
The beneficial fly could reduce the kudzu bug's numbers during the net few years and could prove to be an effective biological control method.
About the size of a pencil eraser, the kudzu bug feeds on stems and leaves of legumes, at times causing significant economic damage.
During the fall, they congregate in large masses on buildings and other structures.
They also emit an unpleasant odor when crushed and can be a nuisance to homeowners.