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Kudzu bugs new pest on the horizon

July 18th, 2011

Kudzu bugs new pest on the horizon

While only about a quarter of the size of a dime, the tiny insects known as kudzu bugs are expected to inflict serious crop loss in Cleveland County, along with the rest of North Carolina.

“They are the new pest on the horizon,” said Greg Traywick, Cleveland County extension director for the North Carolina Cooperative Extension.

Kudzu bugs are voracious eaters, named for their appetite for kudzu, but Dominic Reisig, from North Carolina State University’s Department of Entomology, warned that they have an appetite for many farm plants, and are spreading fast.

“I haven’t been able to figure how much damage they’re doing,” said Nelson Dellinger, a Shelby farmer with a kudzu bug infestation in his soybeans.

Dellinger is one of the first farmers in the area to notice the coming of kudzu bugs into Cleveland County, realizing that his own plants were infested earlier this month.

While the bugs are treatable with certain pesticides, Dellinger fears that they will not be killed off easily; he has researched the insects and heard that they quickly reproduce and have a tendency to return to previously sprayed fields.  He said that he has also looked at other farmers’ fields and seen kudzu bugs in their crops as well.

Reisig warned that kudzu bugs have a particular appetite for legumes, a plant family that includes beans, lentils, peas and, most notably, soybeans. They can also inflict heavy damage on crops, Reisig said, inflicting almost 20 percent yield loss on the plants they like to eat.

Reisig said that the “piercing, sucking pests (that) feed off the stems and leaves of plants,” are “capable flyers,” and likely spread from field to field by flight, feasting on other, less desirable plants during travel.

Reisig said that kudzu bugs are originally Asian, first arriving in the United States at Athens, Ga., just a couple of years ago. In 2009, they only lived in three or four counties in Georgia. This year, they have already spread throughout Georgia and South Carolina, and now infest crops in around 35 North Carolina counties.

The long-term effects of kudzu bugs on farms have yet to be adequately studied, since the bugs have only been in the United States for a short time, but the contributions of foreign organisms on an ecosystem are rarely positive.

“If they could stay on kudzu, we would probably welcome them,” Dellinger said.

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