A new, tiny brown bug - the Kudzu Bug - showed up in my yard last week, but other yards in the Atlanta area have been host to this insect for a couple of years now. A large number of calls to the local county extension office over the past year have been about this particular pest.
It shares that unfortunate habit of ladybugs of overwintering inside the walls of buildings, leading to occasional outbreaks of "what the heck?" when great masses of them emerge inside the building instead of outside, where they belong.
The really bad news is that this is not a "good bug" like the ladybug, devouring aphids and other small garden pests. The kudzu bug is itself a pest, not only on kudzu, but on all plants in the bean & pea family. It eats their leaves.
UGA's Dr. John Ruberson has published a short Pest Report (click the link to read it) about this new pest in the newsletter of Georgia Organics.
For farmers, the bug is a big problem partly because effective controls haven't yet been established, even though the bug is causing some serious damage. I am hoping that, for gardeners, the insect (which is a true bug - a Hemipteran) is not as much of a pest as the Mexican Bean Beetle, but I may have to resign myself to battling yet another beetle that eats my bean plants.
So far, my bean-beetle battle strategy includes early planting of bush beans, which works because the Mexican Bean Beetles become much more abundant as summer progresses. Sometimes, I don't see them until July, and by then I can already have harvested quite a lot of beans from bush-type plants.
According to the short article by Dr. Ruberson, the Kudzu Bug is showing up much earlier in the gardening year, and the bug in my garden suggests that he is right. That means my strategy of planting early bush beans isn't going to help much in the effort to avoid damage caused by Kudzu Bugs.
My other main strategy is to knock adult beetles into soapy water to drown them. Smashing the adults has also worked for Mexican Bean Beetles, even though it is pretty messy, but I have heard that the Kudzu Bugs have stinky guts, which makes smashing a less attractive strategy.
I also smash Mexican Bean Beetle larvae and eggs, and this would probably also work for Kudzu Bugs, but the smashing strategy isn't nearly as effective as avoidance by earlier planting of early-maturing bush beans has been. Smashing and drowning the pests just delays by a week or two the time when the crop is a complete loss.
It looks as though this will be a very interesting gardening year. Wish me luck!
EDIT: I usually get my basic information right, but in this post I originally had called the kudzu bug a beetle, and it isn't. The kudzu bug is in the order Hemiptera; it's a true bug. The information should be all correct now!
19 April 2013 EDIT: Anyone who is interested enough in Kudzu Bugs to have read this far should probably read the Kudzu Bug Update from 8 April 2013.