Homeowners and soybean growers in North Carolina are in for a surprise this year, as kudzu bugs continue their march across the Southeast.

This invasive pest congregates en masse on home siding and legumes, like soybeans.

The insects were first found in Georgia in 2009, and since then, they have been found in soybean fields there and in South Carolina in large numbers. In 2010, one North Carolina county reported the pest, and last summer, it had spread to roughly half the state’s counties.

While kudzu bugs feed on legumes, masses of the insects are found congregating on plants they don’t feed on, like fig trees, crepe myrtles, grapes, wheat, cotton, corn and magnolia trees, among others.

During the week of May 14, kudzu bugs had been reported in six North Carolina counties in soybean fields, according to Dominic Reisig, North Carolina Cooperative Extension entomologist and North Carolina State University assistant professor.

Prior to this, kudzu bugs had mainly been found on patches of soybeans that came up voluntarily at the edge of fields and in soybean fields during mid- to late-summer.

And while the good news is that the insect does eat kudzu — another invasive species that all but swallows parts of the Southern landscape in summer — it isn’t likely to kill much of it, Reisig said. But it has been shown to reduce kudzu biomass.

Kudzu bugs are about one-quarter inch in size, somewhat oblong in shape and olive-green colored with brown speckles. With their piercing-sucking mouthparts, kudzu bugs feed on plants by sucking nutrients from leaves and stems. Though they don’t damage soybean pods like some other insect pests, they can induce stress in the plants, reducing yields.

The insects, which originated in Japan, are believed to have entered the United States near Atlanta, Reisig said. North Carolina entomologists have joined with researchers in South Carolina and Georgia to find effective strategies for managing this new pest. But right now, no one has much to offer, he said.