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Communications > News Line > Posts > Alabama Extension Specialist, Auburn Researcher Gaining New Insights into Behavior and Control of the Kudzu Bug

xing-ping-hu5.jpgTwo grants have helped an Alabama Extension specialist and Auburn University professor gain several breakthrough insights into the virulent kudzu bug, including the discovery of a native predator that could go a long way toward reducing the pest’s numbers.

Dr. Xing Ping Hu, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System entomologist and Auburn University professor in the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, says her research is intended to provide not only a clearer picture of the pest’s feeding, mating and migratory habits but also effective control strategies and methods.

The first grant of $50,000 was awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, while the second grant, totaling $30,000, was provided by Extension Integrated Pest Management Coordination and Support Program to support Hu’s efforts to deliver her research findings to the people affected by the pest.
A Remarkable Ability to Adapt
Her initial research findings have confirmed the pest’s remarkable adaptability to new environments.
kudzu-bug15.jpg“Since its detection in 2009, this stink bug has developed from an urban nuisance to a serious bean crop pest throughout the Southeast,” Hu says, adding that its rapidly expanding range, explosive population growth, severe damage to legume crops and vegetables, repulsive smell and difficulty to control have contributed to its elevated pest status.
“Sometimes you will see them feeding voraciously on all kinds of plants, including ornamental and horticultural plants, particularly in early spring and late fall when kudzu and soybeans plants are unavailable or unsuitable for feeding.”
Despite a special affinity for legumes, such as kudzu and soybeans, they can adapt to many other species. To sustain their long flights during migration, the bugs have even been detected feeding on Queen Anne’s Lace, a common wild plant found along many Alabama roadsides.
A Penchant for Long Beans and Green Beans
green-beans.jpgHu has also noted a penchant for long beans and green beans. 
“If a kudzu bug population grows large enough, it’s capable of wiping out these two crops,” Hu says. “In fact, we have photos showing as many as 50 bugs on only one long bean pod.”
Some plants have died from bug infestations. The same holds true for several other vegetable corps, such as lima beans, runner beans and string beans.
A Rare Trait
Hu has also discovered the female’s ability to store sperm during the overwintering period — a rare trait among insects and one that provides the species with an especially valuable survival tool.
“The sperm can survive the entire winter, after which the stored sperm is released and the eggs fertilized,” she says.  “What this means is that a female kudzu bug doesn’t need the presence of males when she flies to a new location to overwinter.”
Hu has also gained new insights into how females lay their eggs, depositing them strategically in early spring before the primary hosts, kudzu and soybeans, begin budding and leafing.
She says the females often deposit egg masses on low plantations close enough for fast-growing kudzu to reach.  Females have also been found depositing egg masses on tall plants and trees farther away so that the hatched larvae are blown by wind into the kudzu — a highly evolved dispersal method, she says.
kudzu-bug11.jpgHu has also determined that kudzu bugs migrate into soybeans only after the plants have reached a foot in height. 
She hopes these findings will provide homeowners and farmers alike with more effective methods to remove habitats that promote the pest’s spread.
The biggest breakthrough of all is the detection of a native parasitoid found in the guts of several kudzu bugs dissected by Hu’s graduate student researcher, Julian Golec.
A Native Predator
The parasitoid, which Hu has determined to be a fly, ultimately could reduce the kudzu bug’s numbers substantially over the next few years and may also prove to be an effective biological method to complement future control strategies.
“The presence of this parasite in the bugs we’ve detected is unusually high,” she says. “We’ve even seen the larvae crawl out from several of the insects, pupate on the ground and emerge into flies, which, in turn, affect other bugs.”
Hu has determined the family and genus of the fly and hopes to release it within the next few weeks.  Her next research priority is to determine conditions for optimizing the parasite’s numbers.
“The discovery of this parasite is especially good news, as it may provide a viable alternative to an imported wasp species, allowing nature to take the exotic kudzu bug to task,” Hu says.
To date, the pests have spread to 56 of Alabama’s 67 counties since 2009.



Sheila Dicks

7/18/2013 12:34 PM
I have found numerous kudzu bugs on my pole beans. This is the first year I have had them on my farm.
Thank you for the research updates!

Deaconess Margaret Anderson

8/23/2013 9:27 AM
I have lived in Grayson Valley (near Trussville) for 8 years, and have never seen these bugs until several weeks ago. Their numbers are multiplying rapidly, and I am afraid of them! They cover my car in the afternoon, my porch and front door (facing west), and my 2nd floor west windows. I would not be able to have anyone come to clean my carpets or heating vents without having a swarm of the bugs infesting my house.

What are we going to do for quick fix and long run?

Deaconess Anderson


8/26/2013 8:01 PM
I also live in the Grayson Valley area and have just noticed these bugs in the past week or so. I find the smell to be unlike anything else, and it lingers. There's a large kudzu patch near our house. How do I get rid of them?