By Sharon Dowdy
John Ruberson is looking for natural enemies of the kudzu bug in an effort to fight the pest's spread across the Southern states. The Georgia entomologist things a tiny Asian wasp may be the best option.
The kudzu bug was first spotted in Georgia in the fall of 2009. It feeds on kudzu, soybeans and other legumes.
A test run
This summer in collaboration with Walker Jones of the USDA-Agricultural Research Service in Stoneville, Miss., and Jeremy Greene of Clemson University, Ruberson tested the effectiveness of an egg parasitoid as a kudzu bug control method.
A parasitoid is an organism that spends the immature portion of its life attached to or within a single host organism causing the host to die. Paratelenomus saccharalis is a tiny wasp no larger than the period at the end of this sentence. The wasp lays its egg in each kudzu bug egg. The developing wasp larva destroys the kudzu bug egg as it develops. And, the wasp doesn't sting humans.
"Using classical biological control is an option in the tool kit," said Ruberson, an entomologist in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "There are several known parasitoids, one pathogen from India and one predator from Pakistan that are all natural enemies of the kudzu bug."
UGA scientists "know very little" about the predator and the pathogen, Ruberson said. They are working closely with Keiji Takasu of Kyushu University in Fukuoka, Japan who has extensive knowledge of the wasp.
Got to be eco-safe
"We have to demonstrate the safety of the organism before it can be released," he said. "We want to make sure it's a safe release so it doesn't mess up the ecosystem."