If you live in the Southeastern or Mid-Atlantic states, you may find some unfamiliar insects congregating on the side of your house this fall, looking for places to shelter for the winter. If you're seeing humpbacked, mottled brown, little bugs (they're only about ? inch long) with a distinctively truncated flat backend, you've spotted the kudzu bug. This Chinese native was first found in this country in Georgia in 2009 and has rapidly expanded its territory to include at least 8 states, moving as far north as southern Maryland and as far west as Tennessee, Mississippi, and eastern Louisiana by 2013.
No one is worried about these bugs dining on another foreign interloper, the invasive vine kudzu, which they relish. But folks are worried because the kudzu bug also feeds on other legumes, such as soybeans and other kinds of beans, and has the potential to become a major agricultural pest as well as a home garden headache. Kudzu bugs are also a nuisance pest for homeowners as they look for winter shelter. As the weather cools in the fall, kudzu bugs move from their host plants to search for protected sites to shelter in from the cold, such as under the siding of buildings or in any crack or crevice; they're a nuisance not only because they congregate in such large numbers, but because they often make their way inside homes as well. They are especially attracted to light colored surfaces, so you may also see them on white cars, even your white laundry hanging on the line! In early spring, they appear en masse once again as they wake up from their winter rest.
The best way to keep kudzu bugs out of your house is to seal all gaps well with caulk or screening so there are no entry points for them. If some do get into your house, don't crush them as they give off a foul odor when crushed and can stain surfaces. To make matters worse, some people have an allergic reaction to these bugs that results in skin irritation and discoloration. Vacuuming the bugs up is the best option; dump the bag of bugs in a container of hot, soapy water to finish them off.
Some states, especially those on the leading edges of the invasion, ask the public to report if these invasive pests are found. To find out more about the identification, control, distribution, and reporting of kudzu bugs, check out Kudzu Bug and Maryland Kudzu Bug Survey. (Image courtesy of Daniel R. Suiter, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org)