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September 29, 2011   Email to Friend 

Steve Guy
September 29, 2011

The bean plataspid has been found in seven counties in Alabama and is expected to spread most heavily to the northeast corner of the state. It also likes to feed on soybeans. (AUBURN UNIVERSITY ENTOMOLOGY PHOTO)
AUBURN, Ala. - The vine that ate the South may have finally met its match, but the small bug that feeds on kudzu also likes to eat another legume grown in the south--soybeans.

The bean plataspid, also called the kudzu bug, feeds on the invasive leafy vine that drapes over trees and abandoned buildings across the south, and the U.S. Forest Service has found bean plataspids reduce kudzu mass by about one-third.

"The positive aspect of the kudzu bug is that it slows down kudzu growth, but the biggest concern is what it does to soybeans," said Charles Ray, research fellow with the Auburn University Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology. "In Georgia, they've seen up to 50 bugs per plant in some fields."

Ray said the plataspids, which are about the size of a pencil eraser, do not cause immediate, visible damage to plants.

"They have sucking mouthparts, so they eat by removing plant fluids, not by consuming plant tissue or the soybeans," Ray said. "In Georgia, some farmers originally thought they weren't hurting the plants, so they didn't spray for them."

The University of Georgia performed research on soybean fields and found that plataspid-infested fields that were not sprayed with pesticides suffered a 20 percent reduction in yield.

Chinese soybean producers have reported springtime losses of up to 50 percent and summertime losses of up to 30 percent because of the pest, according to the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

Fortunately, bean plataspids are controllable with commonly used pyrethroid pesticides, said Auburn University Entomology Extension Specialist Ron Smith

"They are not hard to kill," Smith said. "Most pesticides seem to do a really good job. The problem is they just seem to re-infest three to five days later."

The kudzu bug has only been spotted in seven of Alabama's 67 counties, and it seems to be moving to the northeast corner of the state instead of spreading southward, Ray said.

"They spread north and east much faster than they've gone south and west," Smith said. "It could depend on the area of Asia or Japan they originated in--they may be gravitating toward a certain latitude."

Counties with identified populations of bean plataspids include Chambers, Cherokee, Cleburne, Lee, Randolph and Russell. Montgomery County, which does not share a border with Georgia like the others, has also been affected.

The largest population observed to date is in Lee County near Auburn University, Ray said.

"We haven't had any reports of plataspids on soybeans in these areas because there are almost no row crops there, but it's just a matter of time," Smith said.

Steve Guy, the Alabama Farmers Federation's Soybean Division director, said it is important for soybean farmers to look for pests on their crops.

"Next season, the plataspids will probably spread to counties that do farm row crops, especially in the northeast corner of the state," Guy said. "Soybean farmers should look out for them and spray for them when they notice them on their crops."

Smith said bean plataspids may eventually start feeding on peanuts, but to date, there are no documented cases of the bugs on peanuts in Georgia.

"I'm not sure the potential loss would be as great there because peanuts grow underground, but scientists are still watching for that," Smith said.

Homeowners could also be affected by bean plataspids in the fall and winter, Ray said.

"Like the multicolored Asian lady beetle, they're going to fly to white surfaces in the fall, and that includes homes," Ray said. "They tend to cluster on the south side of white surfaces by the thousands, and they may enter homes to hibernate for the winter."

Ray said to prevent infestations, buildings should be well-sealed and treated with pesticides.

For more information about bean plataspids or if you see the kudzu bug on soybeans, contact the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology at Auburn University at 334-844-5006.

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