LSU AgCenter scientists and Louisiana soybean growers are on the lookout for a tiny new pest that can cause considerable damage to the crop.

The kudzu bug has recently been spotted in Vicksburg, Miss., and experts expect it to enter Louisiana in the coming months.

This pest originated in Asia and has been making its way across the southern states for about three years, according to LSU entomologist Jeff Davis.“It was first detected in the fall of 2009 in Georgia when a pest control operator got a call about strange-looking insects on a white house. The kudzu bug seems to be attracted to light colors.”

The operator, along with some entomologist friends went to check out the insect and noticed a patch of kudzu near the home where they found even more of the insects.

“We don’t know exactly how it got into the country, but we suspect through cut flowers or maybe edible soybean products,” Davis said.

Currently the insect is known to be in Kentucky, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia.

New pest for Mississippi soybean growers

Kudzu bug targeting soybeans

Davis said it is possible the bug will be found wherever there is kudzu, its favorite host plant.

Other than kudzu, the pest also feeds on the soybean plant and can inflict up to 47 percent damage to a field.“The average damage is about 18 percent, which is somewhat low compared to stinkbugs that can destroy an entire field. But any damage is going to cost the grower.”

The good thing about controlling this bug is that the insecticides being used for other insects in soybeans will be effective on the kudzu bug.

Homeowners will also want to be on alert for this insect because it is known to overwinter in houses, especially white houses.

“So right now we’re just letting the public know that this insect is moving this way, and they need to be on the lookout for it,” Davis said.

It’s not known if this bug can survive in colder climates, but kudzu is known to be in areas as far north as Ontario, Canada.

The insect is a good hitchhiker and has been known to hop rides on white and other light-colored vehicles.“What we have noticed about this insect is that it seems to be moving mostly along the interstate highway system.”

Davis said there is no need to panic because growers already have the chemicals to control this insect.“We just want them to be looking for the pest so they can begin treatment before the populations grow too large.” 

Because Georgia and several other states already have a few years of experience with the pest, it’s not catching growers completely by surprise.

Davis said when the pest gets to Louisiana, it will probably begin in kudzu. But because it likes soybeans, wisteria and other legumes like clovers, it will eventually find them and begin its life cycles in those crops.

One good thing about the insect is it has been known to reduce kudzu growth by up to 30 percent in some areas and has been looked at as biological control for the plant in some other countries, but not here.

Growers and the public are asked to contact their county agent or the Louisiana Department of Agriculture if they see this bug so identification can be made.

“I thought we would have a few years before we had to worry about it, and so did Mississippi,” Davis said. “But it’s moving faster than we expected.”