Tuesday, April 10, 2012

New Pest: Kudzu Bug

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.


  1. Kudzu bug, wow! There's certainly enough of that plant to go around LOL hopefully they won't populate it all!

  2. Erin, I know ... it is great that there is something (finally!) that will slow down the rate at which kudzu covers the South, but it will be a bummer if the beetles move on from kudzu to the garden green beans, English peas, & black-eye peas. Already, farmers in South Georgia are having trouble with the beetles on the soybean crop, so the situation isn't looking good. However, hope springs eternal, and we're all hoping that the beetles decide that kudzu is the best tasting legume of all!

  3. I’ve had kudzu bugs in my SC garden for the past two summers and they have been totally destroying my pole beans, yard long beans and cow pea crop. They show up by the 1000′s. You can hand knock them off the plants into a container of water and the next day there will be just as many back on the vines. They fly all over you, stinking and staining your skin yellow as you harvest the beans and the harvested beans carry their stink back into the kitchen. Their small size, stink/staining properties, and quick to fly when disturbed when temps are warm make them hard to hand pick, when compared with bean and Japanese beetles. Their activities cut bean production way down, causing the plants to lose their leaves and eventually die. Before the kudzu bug invasion, pole beans plants used to grow all summer until frost, now almost all are dead by mid August. This summer, instead of growing the beans on their traditional long trellis, I tried scattering the beans of groups of 3 plants all over the garden in the hope that some of the plants would remain undiscovered by the bugs, but it didn’t help, the bugs found them all. Basically they have turned what used to be an easy to grow mainstay of the summer vegetable garden into an tricky to grow marginal crop. It looks like the only way I’m going to be able to grow pole beans in a kudzu bug environment is to grow them under a cold frame cover of insect screen. So far they haven't bothered my peas or fava beans.

  4. Basjoos- It turns out that the kudzu bug is being just as destructive in many gardens here as it is in your garden. I was out visiting a community garden earlier this week, and there were thousands of the little stinky pests in that garden, mostly on the pole beans.

    The bush beans in my garden seemed to stay "under the radar" of the kudzu bugs this year, but I have no idea how many years I'll be that lucky. I have mostly relied on bush beans for years because of problems with the Mexican bean beetles and because so many tend to quit producing in hot weather, just as they are flowering most abundantly. It may be that more gardeners will need to switch to the earlier-producing bush plants, but I don't know whether that strategy will work for long.

    So sorry that your garden is so horribly affected by the little pests! Hopefully, some deterrent will be discovered soon.



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