University of Georgia researchers suspect that declining kudzu bug numbers may be due to natural enemies, but they don’t know for sure.
“We can’t positively say it’s due to their natural enemies, but kudzu bug populations are decreasing,” Ian Knight, a graduate student in UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, said in a news release.
In fact, the lack of kudzu bug numbers forced Knight to change the focus of his dissertation to the pest’s ecology and natural enemies. Through his work, he hopes to uncover why the pest is decreasing.
The decline began in 2014 and is believed to have been caused by a naturally occurring fungus and a wasp.
The fungus, Beauveria bassiana, affects insects of all species throughout the Southeast. But the wasp, Paratelenomus saccharalis, was found in America after kudzu bugs were discovered here.
The wasp lays its eggs inside the egg case of kudzu bugs, preventing large numbers of the pest from developing.
Regardless of the outcome of Knight’s research, the decrease in kudzu bugs in recent years has saved soybean farmers time and money.
“Before this decrease, some growers were spraying three times a summer for kudzu bugs,” he says. “In Tifton in 2012, it was hard and miserable to work in soybean fields.”
Kudzu bugs suck on the main stem and branches of soybean plants, which weakens and stresses the plant. Without a natural predator in place, kudzu bugs caused significant damage to soybeans in the southeastern United States.
The pest is native to Japan, China and Asia.