Smaller than the size of a penny, dark in color and indigenous to China, the kudzu bug is continuing to populate Lincoln County, as well as other parts of the Southeast.
This year, farmers and county Cooperative Extension Agent for Agriculture Libby Yarber have noticed a definite increase in the number of these pests in area farms. The plus side — there is minimal loss of crops, at least this year.
“It’s really all about luck, that the county hasn’t suffered much damage,” Yarber told the Times-News on Thursday. “But (the bugs were) here earlier this year. Typically we don’t start seeing them until April, but we started seeing them the end of February.”
By the first of April, eggs were laid — a month ahead of schedule, though Yarber isn’t sure exactly how many critters there are here now.
First introduced to North Carolina in 2009, the lady-bug lookalike pests were first noticed in Cleveland County. Despite their appearance, kudzu bugs are often compared to stink bugs because of the odor they release when squished.
Had kudzu been the main source of the insects’ diet, farmers wouldn’t have a problem, Yarber said, as the vines can encroach on fields and be a nuisance. And though the bugs do feed on the plant after which they are named, those in the United States have more often fed on soybeans — one of Lincoln County’s more profitable crops.
If their preferred snack of choice isn’t available, peanuts, peas and beans may also play host to the bug.
Sticking to and sucking out the juices, leaving black spots and sometimes killing the plant all together, has crop growers concerned and irritated with the ever-increasing number of the overseas bugs.
Lucas Richard, owner of LFR Farms in Newton, has been seeing the insects over the last few years, but never as much as he has this year. Richard sprayed his fields twice, preventing 10 to 15 percent yield loss if he hadn’t taken the proper measures.
The soybean farmer thinks the mild winter last year may have been a factor for why the kudzu bugs were back earlier and with a larger population. Though the July and August treatments he did to his crops were successful, Richard is worried more will be back next year which could be “detrimental” to the vegetable.
Covering his front door, sneaking into his home and flying over his plants, Richard is at ease with the bugs now, however, as his crops are all at a matured level. Once the plants are passed a certain stage, the insects can’t harm them, Richard noted.
Richard and Yarber recommend for those who are seeing the insects inside of their homes, to vacuum up the bugs or wipe them up with a paper towel and then immediately flush down the toilet. Smashing them will release an odor and can leave stains.
Even though they can infiltrate residences, the critters prefer their vegetables, Yarber said. They aren’t known to munch on clothing or other household items, and they don’t bite.
As local farmers hope the worst of the kudzu bugs has passed, now comes the disposal of pesticides.
From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thursday, the N.C. Dept. of Agriculture will be on-site at the Lincolnton Farmer’s Market with a tractor-trailer to haul away anything from a can of Raid to a bucket of Roundup, Yarber said.
Knowing what the chemical is preferable, but if not, Yarber recommends calling ahead and letting her know. Keep in mind, no hazardous waste will be accepted from all local residents during Pesticide Disposal Day.
For more information, call (704) 736-8452.