The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

August 16, 2013

Kudzu bug may have finally met its match

From staff, wire reports
The News Courier

— The dreaded kudzu bug — the Asian stinkbug named after the vine it consumes — has finally arrived in North Alabama, an official has confirmed.

This is good news for those who hate the vine that ate the South, and bad news for those who grow or depend on soybean crops, for which it also has a taste.

One Auburn researcher, however, may have found a predator for the beetle.

The kudzu bug  — actually called a bean plataspid — arrived in Georgia in 2009 and began eating plants in the legume family, like kudzu and wisteria. The bugs quickly proliferated in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. In 2010, the Kudzu bug moved to Alabama.

In September 2011, Extension agent Ken Creel told The News Courier the Kudzu bug had been seen only as far north as the Birmingham area but he expected it to make its way to North Alabama.

On Thursday, Extension agent Lloyd Chapman said the kudzu bug had been confirmed in Lauderdale County.

Experts aren’t worried about how much kudzu the bugs eat; it’s the crops they worry about.

The predator

Within a few days of discovering a native parasitic fly that may reduce kudzu bug numbers significantly over time, Extension System specialist and Auburn University researcher Xing Ping Hu has discovered a local egg-parasitic wasp.

The finding — the first discovery of a local wasp that parasitizes eggs of the kudzu bug — could prove to be a game changer in the fight against this invasive species, Hu said. Along with the earlier finding of a fly that preys on kudzu bug adults, Hu said the discovery of the parasitic egg wasp doubles the frontline of defense using natural enemies to fight the pest.

“This local parasitoid wasp has demonstrated a high capacity to reduce significantly the populations of kudzu bugs in soybean fields,” she said.

Hu’s research assistant, Auburn University graduate student Julian Golec, made the discovery during a routine field investigation of kudzu bug damage in a soybean field. Golec noticed black masses within kudzu bug eggs — something that immediately caught his attention because the translucent eggs normally are characterized by a pinkish or yellowish tint. Even more intriguing, the black masses appeared to be moving. He suspected he had discovered evidence of a local predatory wasp that finds kudzu bugs suitable repositories for its eggs — a hunch confirmed through follow-up investigation.

The rates of parasitized eggs turned out to be especially high.

One of many invasive pests

Hu said kudzu bugs are no different than any other insect species introduced into a new area. The species thrives and its numbers mushroom as it develops into a full-blown invasive species, often wreaking havoc within its new environment.

“That’s why they become invasive in the first place,” Hu said. “They have no natural enemies to balance the ecosystem. It’s as if they’re saying, ‘No one can mess with me so I can do what I want.’”