Taking a bite out of kudzu
The kudzu vine may be the scourge of the South, but researchers say they've discovered a bug that likes to eat it. Trouble is, the pest is an invader from elsewhere, and no one is sure what else it may want to snack on.
"It definitely has more negatives than positives at this point," University of Georgia entomologist Wayne Gardner said last week.
The new "kudzu bug" is scientifically known as Megacopta cribraria. It's round and about the size of a pencil eraser. It's habits are similar to the common stink bug, including the defensive ability to release secretions that smell or otherwise irritate and repel predators.
The critter showed up a couple of years ago as an unwanted import from Southeast Asia, possibly arriving by plane. They were first noticed in three counties northeast of Atlanta around 2009 and have since expanded across the region, including into all 46 counties of South Carolina.
On the upside, scientists from the U.S. Forest Service began noticing a measured reduction in kudzu vines wherever the insect lived. Kudzu, originally imported from Japan and China around 1876, became a huge unwanted mistake, overrunning thousands of acres in the Southeastern U.S., growing more than a foot a day.
Problem is, there are indications the bug's appetite could carry it elsewhere, such as cash crops, including soybeans and green beans. Peanuts also are being investigated as a potential victim.
Locally, Merle Sheperd, professor emeritus at the Clemson Coastal Research Center in Charleston, said the bugs have been spotted in Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties.
The nuisance factor for homeowners, he said, could expand in winter after outdoor vines begin to die off and pest swarms try to find their way indoors.
"They will collect in big numbers and they stink," he said.
In the wild, the bugs are not chewing insects. They have sucking mouthparts that mainly go after juices in plant stems, but sometimes they hit the underside of foliage in the veins.
Gardner said scientists in states across the South are investigating the new arrival, including ways to try to get it under control.
"We're getting loads of feedback," he said, "most not good."