A New Invader

Kudzu Bug

A new invader in my garden (click to enlarge)

While looking for critters in the garden last summer I noticed a bug I had never seen before – an odd-shaped little brown insect. I looked in my insect guides but didn’t see anything that was a match and then something probably came up to distract me and it was filed under “things to look up some day”.  Then as cooler weather approached I started noticing clusters of these bugs congregating on the tips of the fig tree branches and I became worried. Spending a few minutes on Google enlightened me as to this new critter that I am now seeing again this spring in my garden.

Kudzu Bug

Kudzu Bug (click to enlarge)

The Kudzu Bug, aka Megacopta cribraria, is native to India and China. It was first spotted in the U.S. in October of 2009 in a few counties in Georgia. A year later, the insect was confirmed to be present in more than 60 north and central Georgia counties as well as limited distributions in North and South Carolina. By last year, when I first saw it, it had been confirmed in almost all of North Carolina and three other southern states. The rapid spread is amazing.

Kudzu bugs are so-called because they feed on plants in the legume family including invasive plants such as kudzu and non-native wisterias. But they also can cause significant damage to soybeans and other bean crops and this is very worrisome to farmers throughout the south (and maybe beyond).

These new invaders also pose a potential nuisance to homeowners, especially when cold weather approaches and large numbers of the insects look for places to overwinter. In fact, the first reports of this species from Georgia were because large numbers were congregating on warm, sunlit walls of homes in a few counties. Calls to pest control and extension agents’ prompted further investigations into this unusual insect. And it turns out, Kudzu Bugs, like Kudzu vines, proliferate unchecked because they have no natural enemies in North America.

Kudzu Bug

Kudzu Bug – note flattened posterior, a key diagnostic feature (click to enlarge)

Their olive to brown coloration, nearly hemispherical body shape and their flattened posterior edge easily identifies the bugs. Some similar-looking native species have a rounded posterior.

Kudzu Bug

Kudzu Bug, ventral view (click to enlarge)

In addition to crop damage, Kudzu Bugs are problematic because they can exude a chemical that smells bad, can stain surfaces and cause skin irritations in susceptible individuals (so it is best not to crush them). Researchers at North Carolina State University and other venues are working to learn more about the life history of this species and how to control it. For more information, check out this web site – http://www.kudzubug.org/.

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