Bug infestation making for a scary Halloween
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga students Jonathon and Jennifer Hall aren't too familiar with kudzu bugs but recently noticed a couple of them at home. Then a few more showed up.
"I went out a couple days later and there's like four or five of them on our front porch. I took a stick and started knocking them off into the yard," says Jonathon.
"Some of them flew at my head," says Jennifer.
Dr. Yukie Kajita, an insect ecologist at the university, says the brownish-colored critters accidentally arrived in Georgia from eastern Asia in 2009, then spread to Chattanooga/Hamilton County and surrounding counties just two years later. This turned out to be a good thing at first, helping control the overgrowth of the kudzu weeds in the region. But if rubbed the wrong way the bugs leave behind a foul stench.
"They are a group of stink bugs so they produce an unpleasant, stinky odor," explains Kajita.
It's done by ejecting a liquid, similar to the more colorful Japanese Lady Beetle.
Hall definitely remembers catching a whiff.
"I noticed a faint kind of odd, musty odor," Hall recalls.
Direct contact with the liquid won't cause much skin irritation except for some children. Just wash your hands thoroughly. With winter approaching soon, the bugs are using homes as warm, protected places to hibernate. Kajita says the best way to get them out of your house is pretty easy.
"Use a vacuum machine when you find them inside of your house and then after that just [immediately] get rid of that trash outside and seal the bag," says Kajita.
Insecticide sprays may be used to keep them out, but they can be dangerous to children and pets. Use extra caulk or tape around doors and windows.
But there's something worse than the smell. The bugs also attack soybeans and other crops of legumes, costing a lot of money to those with agricultural interests.
"After they reproduce and new adults come out, they switch to soybeans," explains Kajita. "That's really bad news for farmers."
Come spring the kudzu bugs will swarm back to the fields. Around this time next year they'll be invading homes again. This cycle could last for a long time according to Dr. Kajita. To combat this researchers are working on introducing a natural enemy, namely a small wasp native to eastern Asia, to attack and kill the kudzu bugs in large numbers. There's no time table on when they might be brought to the South.