A relative newcomer to the parade of pests found in the United States, the kudzu bug, also known as bean plataspid (Megacopta cribraria), first landed near Atlanta, Georgia in 2009. Likely a stowaway on an international flight from Asia, the brownish-green, ladybug-sized relative of the stink bug is making a name for itself throughout the Southeast, feeding on kudzu, wisteria, soybeans and other bean plants, leaving a foul stench in its wake.
After overwintering in tree bark or garden debris or closer to home in cracks or the gaps around windows and doorframes of homes or outbuildings, flying kudzu bugs emerge in large numbers in the spring. Their presence can be quickly identified by the unpleasant odor and occasional staining left behind by their secretions. Although kudzu bugs do not bite, the secretion is caustic and incidental contact can leave welts on the skin. In rapidly growing numbers, the pest isn’t just an inconvenience to homeowners. Evidence shows the new garden pest can cause extensive damage to both home and commercial crops. Kudzu bugs are expected to cause millions of dollars of crop loss this year. They have also become an issue in office buildings and other large structures as they take up residence indoors.
The kudzu bug releases a pheromone that will attract other kudzu bugs to a site and a small infestation can soon grow to catastrophic proportions. Agricultural scientists are exploring the possibility of importing black wasps (Paratelenomus saccharalis) from Japan known to reduce kudzu bug populations. For now, control can be challenging.
Some native predators like big-eyed bugs and ladybugs have had some impact on controlling this new pest, but a large infestation may take more drastic measures.
The first and possibly best way to keep kudzu bugs at bay is to remove food sources. Kudzu, invasive in its own right, should be removed from the site and wisteria trimmed back. For growers hoping to bring bean crops to harvest, organic pesticides have shown little impact. Chemical intervention using pesticides containing synthetic pyrethroid have shown to be most effective, but a resurgence is likely. Use pesticides judiciously.
Dealing with an infestation in and around the home can be more difficult. Spraying insecticides on siding can cut down on the problem, but using sprays indoors or around outdoor living spaces is not advised.
To keep kudzu bugs from entering the home, seal any visible gaps around window and door frames, make sure screens are secure and scrub with soap and water around any areas of the home where kudzu bugs have been spotted.
If kudzu bugs are found indoors, do not handle. Squashing kudzu bugs will release foul-odored secretions that can stain or irritate the skin. Instead, use a vacuum cleaner or shop vac to contain bugs and place the bag in the freezer or submerge in soapy water to kill them. Handle carefully and dispose of the insect off-site.
If you live in the Southeast and haven’t encountered this stinky pest, consider yourself lucky. Already an issue in Georgia, Florida, Alabama, the Carolinas and Tennessee, the problem is spreading quickly and they are likely heading your way. Bug-proofing your home before a presence is detected will help to defend against the impact of this new arrival.