The 2012 summer blockbuster for University of Tennessee entomologist Karen Vail stars a couple of invasive Asian monsters that take over the Southeast.
You will not find characters like Godzilla or Mothra in this particular tale. The established star in this story is kudzu, the imported invasive vine that was intentionally brought to several southern states to fight erosion before it took over everything in its path.
The newcomer in this Asian battle on U.S. soil is the Kudzu Bug. It was first found in Georgia in 2009 and has spread like wildfire without any natural predators.
"In less than three years it is unreal how fast this thing has spread," said Vail. "It was in eight counties in Georgia in 2009. Now it is in all of South Carolina, most of North Carolina, most of Georgia, as well as parts of Florida and Alabama. As of this month, now four counties in Tennessee have this bug."
Kudzu Bugs feast on kudzu vines in the spring. The problem is the pest eats a lot more than kudzu.
"Eating kudzu is probably the only good thing about this bug," said Vail. "It will shift over to soybeans. We've seen damage up to 47 percent in
yields in soybeans in Georgia. It also eats other legumes, so if you have garden beans
be on the lookout there."
Beyond being a pest to farmers and crops, the Kudzu Bug wants to spend the winter inside your home.
"That is the biggest problem we're going to have with it here. You see pictures
of these bugs coating the side of a house trying to get inside when the temperature drops. They only need a small opening to get inside. By the end of September you
should have your home sealed up. Check any cracks and crevasses around windows,
make sure vents are well-sealed, make sure your screening is in place along soffits. You should also install door sweeps. Otherwise they will be over-wintering in your home," said Vail.
Along with the prospect of hundreds of Kudzu Bugs hibernating in your house, the ladybug-sized pest also packs a potent protective odor that can leave a mark.
"If you crush them, they release a staining material. It smells and if it gets on your
skin it can actually irritate it. There's not much good to be said about this bug. It is a pest to our crops in the summer and it is a nuisance to homeowners in the fall and winter," said Vail.
Unlike other invasive insects such as the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug or the Emerald Ash Borer, the flying Kudzu Bug has spread on its own without needing much additional help from humans. In Tennessee it has been located in Polk, Bradley, Hamilton and Marion County. Vail expects the pest to continue spreading north into the Tennessee Valley.
Vail says you can prepare for the impending invasion by sealing cracks in your home and getting rid of the bug's favorite food.
"If you have a kudzu patch nearby that you've been wanting do something about, now is a good time to go in there and get rid of kudzu," said Vail.
County extension agents want your help spotting the invasive insect as it moves into the area.
"Be on the lookout and if you think you see one of these bugs, call your county extension office. They'll help verify the identity of the bug," said Vail.
A directory of extension offices can be found here on the University of Tennessee website. The website kudzubug.org also provides valuable information on the invasive insect.
Tennessee farmers will benefit from a few years of experience dealing with the kudzu bug in other states. Vail said researchers have determined which pesticides work against the bug and when to apply them.
Soybean farmer Curtis Blake was unaware of the Kudzu Bug's arrival in Tennessee, but has been dealing with a variety of pests this year.
"We've got soybeans and a total of about 400 acres of beans," said Blake.
"This year we have more of an insect problem than we've ever seen because of the mild winter, so we're putting down an insecticide."
Most years Blake does not spray for bugs. The prospect of making pesticides an annual tradition to fight Kudzu Bugs adds another expense to his operation.
"It can cost around $700 to treat 200 acres. Depending on how many times you have to treat the beans obviously changes the expense," said Blake.
Between fighting existing pests and drought conditions, Blake said he is not going to lose sleep over an impending Kudzu Bug invasion.
"We'll deal with it when it gets here, I guess," laughed Blake. "What's one more thing to deal with?"