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By Judy Koehly
There is a new pest in town: the kudzu bug. Megacopta cribraria, commonly referred to as the kudzu bug, was first discovered on kudzu in the vicinity of Atlanta, Ga., during the fall of 2009. Unfortunately kudzu is not the only plant it has on its diet. It quickly moved across Georgia and South Carolina, causing extensive soybean damage.
In 2011, it was found in North Carolina, Alabama and Virginia, and by 2012 is being found in at least two more states—Florida and Tennessee.
It chews into the veins of a plant’s leaves to suck out nutrients, causing the leaves to dry out and wither and the plant to lose nutrition.
The kudzu bug feeds and lay eggs through summer into the fall, then seeks out sheltered areas where it can over-winter, such as under bark or rocks, or in leaf litter, or behind siding or in gaps or cracks of buildings.
For homeowners in the Carolinas, they may show up in your home or other structures as they look for places to hibernate.
Research has found they seem to prefer light colors, white in particular; therefore, window trim, doorframes and gutters are often sites where they congregate before moving inside to warmer locations.
The following spring, the bugs become active again and begin moving onto kudzu and other host plants, particularly wisteria. As a result, those bugs that have over-wintered inside homes (inside walls, attics, etc.) may end up indoors instead of heading to food sources. They may also land on siding and will deposit their eggs on non-plant surfaces such as brick, vinyl, and other siding materials.
They have been described as flying ticks. They are only about one-quarter-inch in size, brown with a greenish hue, plump and almost square in appearance.
They are neither a tick nor a beetle. They more closely resemble stinkbugs with their piercing and sucking mouthparts. The kudzu bug secretes a stinky and offensive odor when disturbed and if squashed, can stain fabric and wall coverings.
In the spring, when they become active again, you may see them congregating on different plants but not doing any damage. They are waiting for their preferred food source—kudzu—to leaf out.
Current research has found there are two generations each year. Much of the first generation is spent feeding on kudzu and wisteria. The second generation completes its development on soybeans and other cultivated hosts, such as your garden’s beans or privet hedges.
To control these pests it is suggested you cut back wisteria, privet and kudzu in the late summer to eliminate those late feeding locations. If you live near a soybean field, there is little that you can do.
Pesticides are not recommended. If used prematurely, they are not effective and if used inside the house, they are more harmful than the insects themselves.
The best control is the same that is suggested for ladybugs and stink bugs: exclusion. Seal as many points of entrance into your home as possible. It is important to make certain the soffit vents and peak vents have good screening.
Just as with ladybugs, vacuuming is the best form of control if these pests have invaded your home. Empty your vacuum immediately to prevent the bug’s odor from lingering in the vacuum cleaner. Its contents should be frozen for several days to kill the bugs or they can be dropped into soapy water.
Thanks to North Carolina State University for much of this information.
Send your gardening questions or comments to: Brunswick County Master Gardener Column, P.O. Box 109, Bolivia, NC 28422, or call 253-2610. Enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope if requesting information or a reply. Answers may be printed in this column.