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Research Finds Invasive Kudzu Bugs May Pose Greater Threat Than Previously Thought

The invasive kudzu bug has the potential to be a major agricultural pest, causing significant damage to economically important soybean crops. Conventional wisdom has held that the insect pests will be limited to areas in the southern United States, but new research from North Carolina State University shows that they may be able to expand into other parts of the country.

Researchers found kudzu bugs were able to feed exclusively on soybeans, reach maturity and reproduce. Click image to enlarge. (Photo credit: Alejandro Del Pozo-Valdivia)

Kudzu bugs (Megacopta cribraria) are native to Asia, and were first detected in the U.S. in Georgia in 2009. They have since expanded their territory as far north as Virginia. The bugs have an interesting life cycle, which has been thought to be a limiting factor on far they can spread.

Eggs laid in the spring hatch into a first generation, which we’ll call “Generation A.” The immature bugs of Generation A normally feed on kudzu plants until they reach adulthood, when they have been known to move into commercial soybean fields. These mature adults lay eggs that hatch into Generation B during the summer months. Generation B kudzu bugs can feed on soybean crops during both their immature and adult life stages, causing significant crop damage.

Because the immature Generation A kudzu bugs have only been seen to feed on kudzu, researchers thought that the pest would not be able to migrate to northern and western parts of the United States, where kudzu doesn’t grow. But now it’s not so clear.

Under controlled conditions in a greenhouse laboratory, researchers at NC State found that immature Generation A kudzu bugs were not limited to feeding on kudzu – they were able to feed exclusively on soybeans, reach maturity and reproduce.

“Researchers began seeing some of this behavior in the wild in 2012 and, while those data aren’t quite ready for publication, our lab work and the field observations indicate that kudzu bugs are potentially capable of spreading into any part of the U.S. where soybeans are grown. And soybeans are grown almost everywhere,” says Dr. Dominic Reisig, an assistant professor of entomology at NC State and co-author of a paper on the research. “It also means that both annual generations of kudzu bugs could attack soybean crops in areas where the bug is already established, which would double the impact on farmers.”

The paper, “First-Generation Megacopta cribraria (Hemiptera: Plataspidae) Can Develop on Soybeans,” is a “rapid communication” article in the April issue of the Journal of Economic Entomology. Lead author of the paper is NC State doctoral student Alejandro Del Pozo-Valdivia. The research was supported by the United Soybean Board and the North Carolina Soybean Producers Association.


Note to Editors: The study abstract follows.

“First-Generation Megacopta cribraria (Hemiptera: Plataspidae) Can Develop on Soybeans”

Authors: A. I. Del Pozo-Valdivia and D.D. Reisig, North Carolina State University

Published: April 2013, Journal of Economic Entomology

Abstract: Megacopta cribraria (F.) (Hemiptera: Plataspidae) was first reported in 2009 near Atlanta, GA. The insect undergoes two generations per year. The first-generation is reported mainly in kudzu during May and June, with the second establishing on both kudzu and soybean during July and August. A greenhouse study was conducted to determine the suitability of two legumes as hosts for first generation M. cribraria. First generation M. cribraria successfully developed on caged potted soybean plants. Conversely, snap beans were not a suitable host under the conditions of this study. A range of 45-50 d was needed to transition from the egg to adult on soybean plants. Although this study was limited to the greenhouse, kudzu may not be an obligate host for the development of first-generation M. cribraria. An important implication of this finding is the establishment for this pest on spring-planted soybean and for the possible expanded geographic range for this pest beyond that of kudzu.