Kudzu bugs may face natural predator

The (Rock Hill) HeraldMay 18, 2013 

Adult kudzu bug


— Natural biological warfare may stem the increasing wave of kudzu bugs throughout the South.

Researchers from Clemson and North Carolina State universities, the University of Georgia and other institutions are expected to ask the U.S. Department of Agriculture for permission this month to fight the kudzu bugs with its natural predator – a small wasp the size of a gnat.

The kudzu bug and the wasp – Megacropta cribaria and Paratelenomus saccharalis respectively using their scientific names – are native to Japan, China and India.

Studies in Japan give the researchers hope they can help keep the kudzu bug population in check, but not kill it totally.

A solution to her bug problem can’t come soon enough for Beverly Semone of Hickory Grove in western York County. While there isn’t kudzu growing near Semone’s home, the kudzu bugs have made her fig tree their temporary home.

Kudzu bugs eat and lay their eggs in kudzu plants. They also eat legumes such as soybeans.

Semone said she examined her fig tree Wednesday morning and there were some kudzu bugs near the top of the tree. When she looked later there were no bugs. She hoped they had gone. Instead, they, and more kudzu bugs, had congregated at the bottom of the tree.

“They are an aggregating insect,” said Paul Thompson, York County’s Clemson Extension Service horticulture agent. “They are attracted to each other’s company.”

The kudzu bugs release a chemical that can stain skin and in some cases cause a blister, said Jeremy Greene, a Clemson University entomologist with the Edisto Research and Education Center in Blackville.

All of the kudzu bugs in the South trace their lineage to one mother bug. Researchers say the mother bug either entered the U.S. from Japan via Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in 2009, or plant material with her eggs did.

With no natural predator, the kudzu bug population has expanded dramatically. There are kudzu bugs in every county in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, researchers said. The bug also has been found in Alabama, Florida, Tennessee and Virginia.

It takes approximately six weeks for a kudzu bug to go from an egg to adult. Spring is the time they hatch and seek food.

In agricultural settings, the kudzu bug attacks the stems of soybeans, sucking out the water, affecting the plant’s size and its yield. In some cases, Greene said, soybean yields can be reduced by as much as 60 percent.

Timely spraying of pesticides can kill the bugs, Greene said. Clemson researchers are trying to determine when the optimal time is for pesticide spraying.

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