Invasive insect vs. invasive plant: The kudzu bug and kudzu

By on August 13, 2014

Kudzu. You’ve probably heard of and seen this climbing vine that can cover, smother and kill other plants. The kudzu bug is an insect that may feed on not only kudzu, but other legumes as well. It may sound like a biological control effort gone awry, but the story is quite the opposite. Kudzu was an intentional introduction, while the kudzu bug was accidental. Regardless, both species are non-native and both species can be quite a nuisance to North Carolinians.

The kudzu bug (close-up, left) can be quite a nuisance to homeowners, congregating on the outside of light-colored structures in the fall and eventually finding their way inside.  Images: D.R. Suiter, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org.

The kudzu bug (close-up, left) can be quite a nuisance to homeowners, congregating on the outside of light-colored structures in the fall and eventually finding their way inside. Images: D.R. Suiter, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org.

Kudzu was first brought to the United States in the late 1800s and planted throughout the Southeastern U.S. until the 1950s. The plant was primarily used to combat erosion, with more than 85 million kudzu seedlings distributed for planting. Talk about planting a bad idea! It wasn’t until 1970 that kudzu was identified as a pest and now, known to be a noxious weed. Today, kudzu is a common sight in the Southeast, covering trees, shrubs and sometimes abandoned houses and cars, and it has become a major threat to forest health. The vines spread quickly, takes over native ecosystems killing native plants, and is difficult to manage.

The kudzu bug, on the other hand, is a relatively new find in North Carolina. Because kudzu is so widespread, the kudzu bug is able to quickly and effectively expand its range into new areas. It was first detected near Atlanta in 2009, and has since been found in most counties in North Carolina. The good news about this new invasive insect is that it loves kudzu. Both species are from Asia and in its native range, kudzu is a favored host plant of the insect. Unfortunately, they’re not just munching on kudzu. The kudzu bug also feeds on many plants in the legume family: soybeans and other beans, wisteria and vetches. As an agricultural pest, the stakes for managing this insect are suddenly much higher.

The kudzu bug has also become a major household pest. This fall, you may notice them congregating on the outsides of white or light-colored homes. If you’re unlucky, they’ll come find your home. And if you’re really unlucky, they might find a way to slip inside. The bugs find small cracks and crevices, such as doors, vents and gaps around windows, to accomplish a home invasion. Not only are the bugs annoying, but they’re smelly house guests. Kudzu bugs stink, and the foul chemical they emit could also cause rashes or blisters on those who handle or crush them.

Best way to protect your home this fall? Act now and seal up any cracks, crevices or gaps that might be used to gain entry. You can also try to find a nearby food source (is there a kudzu patch nearby?) and attempt to control it. No one likes an uninvited house guest, especially when they bring all their smelly friends!

To learn more about the kudzu bug, visit the NCSU Insect Notes on the critter!

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