Kudzu-eating pest too good to be true?

A kudzu-eating pest never before seen in the Western Hemisphere has arrived in northeast Georgia, but it's not all good news.

The bug feasts on soybean crops and releases a stinky chemical when threatened.

Researchers from UGA and Dow AgroSciences identified the bug, which is native to India and China, last month. It's been spotted in Gwinnett, Hall, Walton, Barrow, Jackson, Greene, Clarke, Oconee and Oglethorpe counties.

Commonly called the lablab bug or globular stink bug, it's pea-sized and brownish with a wide posterior. The bug waddles when it walks but flies well.

"At one home in Hoschton, we found the bugs all over the side of a lady's house," said Dan Suiter, a UGA entomologist. "There is a kudzu patch behind her home that provides food, and they were attracted to the light color of the siding."

Suiter said the bug is an "invasive species feeding on an invasive species."

"We have no idea what the long-term impact on kudzu will be, but we also have to consider the fact that it feeds on crops too," he added. "It's kind of a double-edged sword. It eats kudzu, which is good, but it also stinks and gets on homes. And the ominous threat is that it eats soybeans and other legume crops."

Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin said his department will work with UGA and the USDA on the best way to deal with the insect. There's not enough information yet to determine its range and potential as a pest, he said.

Extension agents and pest control companies have been notified about the bug. Homeowners who find it should call 1-800-ASK-UGA1.

How the bug got here remains a mystery, though it likely came over on a plant.

"We do have the world's busiest airport here, but we'll never know how the bug first got here," Suiter said. "When it found kudzu here, it found a food source, and it doesn't have any natural enemies here that we are aware of."

Terminix technical specialist Jim Chase said the bug hibernates on the south and west walls of homes.

"They just sit there for the entire winter and maybe on a real warm day or in the spring they start coming out," Chase said. "Homeowners can certainly vacuum things up, seal their homes better so they don't find cracks to get in, and blow them off with leaf blowers. And they can do treatments around the perimeter."

Kudzu was introduced to the U.S. in 1876 as a Japanese ornamental plant at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. Soon Southern gardeners began planting the vine as protective ground cover and decorative foliage in gardens.

In the 1930s and 1940s, the Civilian Conservation Corps used it liberally to control soil erosion. But by 1953, the U.S. Department of Agriculture saw that kudzu was spreading too rapidly and termed it a weed. Now it tops the nation's invasive species list.