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Kudzu bugs invading Virginia

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They stink, they snack on soybeans and they’re here to stay, say entomologists.

By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

Twin County homeowners may want to keep a vacuum handy this fall in case the most recent insect invader wants to take refuge somewhere cozy.
Virginia researchers studying the kudzu bug have mostly confined their work to the effect of the rapidly spreading insect on row crops, according to Virginia Extension Service and Virginia Tech entomologist Ames Herbert.

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Knowledge of the kudzu bugs’ affect on homeowners mostly comes from Georgia, the first place in the United States the Asian insect was discovered in 2009.
“What we know about this insect is what happened to the folks to the south of us where it originally invaded,” the researcher said. “There’s no history of it here.”
From Georgia, the insect quickly spread along the eastern seaboard to parts of Delaware and Maryland.
In Virginia, researchers first heard reports of the kudzu bug in nearby Patrick County during 2011.
The bugs do flock to the vine that is its namesake, which was also brought to the U.S. from Asia as part of a display in the Philadelphia Exposition of 1876, according to information from Florida State University.
Kudzu bugs have also found alternative plants to feed on in their short time in this country, including soybeans.
Because reports about kudzu bugs came to Virginia researchers right at the beginning of spring 2012, they knew the insect had successfully survived the winter, Herbert said.
The first reports of the kudzu bugs infesting bean fields happened in Suffolk County.
Extension officials worried that kudzu bugs could impact crop yields where soybeans are grown in Virginia.
Grayson and Carroll counties make up part of the western boundary for the pest. The entomologist believes that researches may learn that the bug has made it to 80 percent of Virginia counties when information comes in at the end of this growing season.
Extension agents will collect that data from farmers, asking in a survey if they had to treat crops for the kudzu bug and, if so, how many acres they sprayed.
The rapid distribution makes this a significant event. “It’s spreading faster than any pest I’ve ever seen,” Herbert said. “We knew it was coming I just didn’t think it would happen as quickly as it has.”
It remains to be seen what the kudzu bug will do this fall when it gets cooler, but if the pattern found in Georgia holds, these insects may seek winter shelter in homes.
It seems that kudzu bugs do colonize the exterior of buildings, particularly those with white siding, he said.
Kudzu bugs may not go into homes, but may just hide under the siding, Herbert said. They may leave evidence of their visit with stinks and stains.
“It is important to remember here that kudzu bugs belong to the same superfamily as stink bugs and have been known to emit an unpleasant odor that can be hard to get out of your nose, your furniture, your carpet, etc.,” according to kudzubug.org, a publication of the University of Georgia. “Crushing the bugs thus becomes a problem, as they emit an unpleasant odor and may stain the surface they are crushed upon.”
Herbert also noted that some people can get a skin rash if they come into contact with the bug. Avoid crushing them against your skin, he advised.
Researchers are looking at a biological control — a native parasitic wasp that could kill some of the bugs. However, the rapidly spreading kudzu bug as a species is here to stay, Herbert said.