Meet Tofu's Enemy: Kudzu Bugs

New research shows they could spread to soybean farms across the US

By Mark Russell,  Newser Staff

Posted Apr 20, 2013 6:20 AM CDT

(Newser) – Kudzu plants have been choking the Southeast for years, so at first blush it would seem that the 2009 arrival of the kudzu-eating kudzu bug from Asia would be a blessing. No so much. It turns out the bugs favor a second crop as well: soybeans. And on the heels of new research, scientists fear the bugs could do serious damage to soybean farms far beyond the Southeast, reports Lab Spaces. It explains how the quirks of the bugs' life cycle are fanning fears: Eggs laid in the spring develop into bugs (Generation A) that eat only kudzu plants while they are young, and can move on to soybean plants only as they mature. These mature bugs lay more threatening eggs that hatch in summer (Generation B) and can feast on soybean crops from the get-go. Given the diet limitations of the immature Generation A bugs, researchers figured they wouldn't be able to migrate to areas without kudzu, the northern and western US.

But using a greenhouse lab, North Carolina State University researchers observed immature Generation A bugs eating ... soybeans alone. The new research suggests "kudzu bugs are potentially capable of spreading into any part of the US where soybeans are grown. And soybeans are grown almost everywhere," says study co-author Dr. Dominic Reisig, who notes they bugs are likely spreading by attaching themselves to planes and cars. TakePart reports while the bug has no natural predator here, insecticides are fairly effective in wiping them out—but that obviously means dousing crops in more chemicals. Bringing in a parasitic wasp from Japan could hasten their undoing, but getting the OK to import an exotic species can take years.

This 2010 photo provided by Clemson University shows adult kudzu bugs infesting a soybean plant in a field near Athens, Ga.   (AP Photo/Clemson University, Jeremy Greene)
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