Almost two years ago, a tiny immigrant pest arrived in Georgia, and there’s nothing the state’s immigration office can do to make it leave.

The bean plataspid, or kudzu bug, munches on kudzu and soybeans and has now set up residence in four Southern states.

Homeowners consider the bug a nuisance. Soybean producers shudder at the damage it causes. And many are hoping it will prove to be a kudzu killer.

Spreading problem

The kudzu bug was first spotted in Georgia in the fall of 2009 when insect samples were sent to the University of Georgia Homeowner Insect and Weed Diagnostic Laboratory in Griffin, Ga. The first samples came from UGA Cooperative Extension agents in Barrow, Gwinnett and Jackson counties.

“The bug can now be found in 143 Georgia counties, all South Carolina counties, 42 North Carolina counties and 5 Alabama counties,” said Wayne Gardner, an entomologist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Harming soybeans

The bean plataspid feeds on soybeans, a crop grown in Georgia for the oilseed and animal feed markets.

UGA entomologist Phillip Roberts classifies the kudzu bug as an economic pest of soybeans. When left untreated in soybean fields, the bugs reduced the crop yield by 19 percent in 2010.

“We had a range of yield loss from 11 to 23 percent,” he said. “This means if a farmer grew 40 bushels of soybeans and lost 20 percent, that’s 8 bushels. With a value of $12 a bushel, that’s a $96 loss, so it makes sense to apply a treatment to control the pest.”