Smelly kudzu-eating bug invades Alabama
Published: Sunday, January 16, 2011, 8:30 AM Updated: Sunday, January 16, 2011, 9:33 AMView full sizeThe globular stink bug eats kudzu but it also invades homes in great numbers and smells bad if squashed. It’s become widespread in Georgia and now Auburn University scientists have found it in eastern Alabama. They expect it to spread quickly across the state. (Special)
An invasive kudzu-eating bug that swept across Georgia last year has now been detected in Alabama.
Though you might be tempted to celebrate the arrival of a bug that eats The Vine That Ate the South, this kudzu bug stinks. Both literally and figuratively.
When temperatures drop, the pea-sized bugs — also known as the lablab bug or the globular stink bug — invades homes in hordes. When threatened or crushed, they emit a foul odor.
University of Georgia entomology Professor Wayne A. Gardner said he’s found them 30 stories high, coating the window sills of Atlanta condo high rises, and he has seen them swarming in roadside kudzu patches.
“You smell them when you get out of the truck,” he said.
More seriously, the bug likes to munch on plants other than kudzu, including soybeans. It also could be a threat to other legume crops such as peanuts, Gardner said.
In November, Auburn University researchers collected two individual specimens in east Alabama border counties, Cleburne and Cherokee. They now expect them to spread quickly across our kudzu-rich state.
“They are really prolific and they are strong fliers. We think they will be widespread during the next growing season,” said Auburn entomologist Ron Smith.
Known scientifically as Megacopta cribraria, the bulbous, pea-sized bug is native to India and China.
Researchers have not figured out how it got to Georgia. It might have caught a plane to Atlanta.
University of Georgia entomologist Dan Suiter said the school’s labs started receiving samples in October 2009. They were coming in from mystified pest control professionals and confused county agents.
Samples came in from nine counties that year. By this past fall, entomologists had found the bug in 90 counties, covering virtually all the northern half of Georgia. The bugs also were found all over South Carolina this year and in one county in North Carolina.
Suiter said that, in experiments conducted this summer, U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers found the bug can limit the growth of kudzu by about one-third.
Kudzu itself is an Asian import. It was widely planted in the 1930s as an erosion prevention measure. When it found itself in a warmer and wetter world with none of its natural predators, kudzu quickly became a menace, spreading as much as a foot a day and eventually smothering anything that stood in its way.
The kudzu bug is experiencing a similar period of unchecked growth.
“It really doesn’t have anything that limits its growth,” Suiter said.
However, he doesn’t expect the bugs to ease kudzu’s grip on the South.
More problematic is gauging what effects the pest will have on crops.
Researchers have found that when the bug infests a soybean field, it can decrease yields by more than 10 percent as it damages and sucks moisture out of the plant.
At the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, entomologist Charles Ray and his colleague Xing Ping Hu will be tracking the kudzu bug’s presence.
Hu has been busy in recent years. She has been tracking the spread of Formosan termites in the state.
“Invasive species are a big issue now,” she said.
To make matters worse, there is a second variety of invasive stink bug that arrived in Alabama this year.
According to Ray, an observant amateur entomologist from Birmingham, Stuart Ball, discovered the first Brown Marmorated Stink Bug in the state, which Ball found in his apartment.
This bug also multiplies rapidly and tends to invade homes in numbers. It is a recent introduction from Asia and damages crops including apples and peaches.
And yes, it stinks, too.
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