Homeowner’s Guide to the Kudzu Bug
Their name makes them sound cute, but for homeowners and soybean farmers, the kudzu bug can be a downright nuisance.
To the untrained eye, the kudzu bug may look like a tiny lady beetle. But this button-shaped insect is actually deceptively menacing and capable of destroying your tender green bean plants in no time. The kudzu bug chews through to the veins of plant leaves, sucking up the nutrients and leaving them to die.
According to Katelyn A. Kesheimer, Ph.D., an assistant professor and extension specialist in entomology and plant pathology at Auburn University, the kudzu bug can be a huge nuisance to urban and suburban homeowners, especially in autumn and spring.
Mostly found in the Southeastern U.S., the first kudzu bug migrated from its native Asia more than a decade ago. Since then, this annoying bug has become the main source of yield loss in soybean fields and other row crops. It’s estimated the loss to soybean production alone may reach millions of dollars annually.
Though generally harmless to houseplants, indoor kudzu bugs will feast on bed bugs, a double whammy of gross. In home gardens, kudzu bugs go after organic beans and legumes.
Exactly What Are Kudzu Bugs?
Named after the invasive kudzu vine/weed, one if its favorite foods, the kudzu bug (AKA globular stink bug or bean plataspid) is a 1/4-inch-long, odorous pest. Besides infesting soybean fields, kudzu bugs are also known to embed themselves in home lawns, turf systems and pastures.
Mature kudzu bugs measure 1/6- to 1/4-in. long with a hard-shelled, oblong-shaped, olive-green body. They emit an obnoxious scent when threatened or crushed.
Females lay rows of small, light-brown egg masses. Nymphs immediately ingest their birth capsules. As they grow, they start to look more like tinier versions of the adult kudzu bug.
The kudzu is often confused with the more common stink bug. Here are ways to tell them apart:
- A kudzu bug’s shielded back is square and flat across the bottom. Stink bugs have a triangular thorax.
- Kudzu bugs are olive-green with brown specks. Stink bugs are grayish-brown all over.
- A kudzu bug’s second antenna segment is shorter than that of a stink bug.
Fun fact: Some believe the kudzu bug was deliberately released into the landscape to control the growth of the insidious kudzu weed, but that theory has been debunked as an urban legend.
What Impact Do Kudzu Bugs Have on Lawns and Gardens?
“It is unlikely that kudzu bugs will damage your lawn or other plants in a garden,” Kesheimer says. “They will feed on legumes and might be found on other plants, but they are usually just stopping by on their way to soybeans.”
In the fall, kudzu bugs wind up in homes and cars. “They are looking for a warm place to spend the winter and will do so in very large numbers,” she says. In spring, kudzu bugs venture out in search of food. If your backyard is near a soybean farm, you could encounter lots of them.
What Are the Signs of a Kudzu Bug Infestation?
On the lookout for kudzu bugs? Here’s what to look for.
If kudzu bugs are in flight, they’re pretty hard to miss, especially on a sunny day near light-colored, reflective backgrounds like white houses. “You’ll see them on cars or near structures,” Kesheimer say. “Where there is one, there are usually more.”
Another tried and true indication is their putrid smell. “To me, they smell like rotten peanut butter” says Kesheimer.
Avoid crushing the bugs, she says, because they may stain your clothing or other household items. “If you are removing the bugs by hand, consider putting on gloves to avoid any chance of irritation,” she says. “Their odor can be transferred to your hands, and some might experience skin irritation.”
Always make sure to wash your hands with soap and water after touching kudzu bugs, to avoid red welts or a burning sensation.
If you happen to be cultivating wisteria, green beans or other legumes (i.e., peas, chickpeas, lentils) in your garden, your burgeoning crops are likely to attract kudzu bugs as if they were candy.
How To Get Rid of Kudzu Bugs
“The only time you will need to control kudzu bugs is if you experience large aggregations in the fall that are moving into your home,” Kesheimer says.
To decrease bug populations, clean up your property by getting rid of kudzu vines, as well as pruning trees and other plants that kudzus like to feed on. Chemical control is an option, particularly if you have large numbers on plants. Most garden insecticides that contain Bifenthrin, a pyrethroid, are effective against kudzu bugs. That can limit the number trying to move into your home in the fall.
Kesheimer believes most solutions can be carried out by homeowners themselves. She says there’s seldom a need to involve pro exterminators.
How To Prevent Kudzu Bugs
Like many other garden insects seeking shelter, the best way to prevent the insects from entering your house is by sealing cracks and crevices around the perimeter. Even the smallest holes are big enough for this pea-sized bug to get through.
If you do find kudzu bugs in your home, Kesheimer suggests following these steps:
- Vacuum up the bugs.
- Seal the dust bag and place it in the freezer for up to 48 hours or immerse it in soapy water.
- Dispose of the sealed bag in an outdoor garbage bin.