Nuisance to some, costly to others. Kudzu bugs are back

Kudzu bugs, those little green pests you'll find on your back porch or garden, are back again this summer.

The official name for the bug is the bean plataspid, but most homeowners would simply call them a real pain in the fence, or windowsill or screen.

Kudzu bugs are natives of Asia and so named because they seem to like hanging around on the kudzu plant.

They're also fond of soybeans and since that's one of South Carolina's biggest cash crops - an estimated $139-million dollars in production per year - losing soybeans to kudzu bugs is no fun for farmers.

"They have observed a 20 percent loss in yield and it could be as bad as 50 percent," said William Hardee, an agronomy agent with the Clemson Extension Service in Horry County.

Insect experts say the bugs don't eat soybeans or other legumes. Instead, they literally drain the plants of their source of nourishment.

"They'll be lined up on the stems and they'll actually suck that plant, sucking the nutrients out of it. That's causing that plant, a lot of the bloom to shed off," said Billy Todd, manager of Crop Production Services ( near Aynor.

Kudzu bugs have no natural predators in this part of the world, so chemical spraying is about the only way to control them, though scientists are working on research to find a more biological, natural solution.

"In a couple of years they may find something that's safe for the environment, once they do extensive testing," Hardee said.

For now, Hardee says farmers use pesticides called pyrethroids to kill kudzu bugs.

Some types of that chemical are available to non-farmers, but since the bugs are mostly just a nuisance unless you grow soybeans, Hardee and other bug experts advise people to just learn to put up with them.

Whatever you do, it's not wise to smash kudzu bugs unless you're ready for an unpleasant surprise.

"They smell just like a stink bug," said Todd. "You mash them with your fingers, you can definitely smell them."