Closings and delays

Kudzu bugs reported around Winston-Salem

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A "kudzu bug" perches on the edge of a small flag on Bobby Ray Long's house at 711 Washington Ave. in Winston-Salem, Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013. (David Rolfe/Journal)

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Bobby Ray Long is not alone, but he sure feels like it.

Long’s house on Washington Avenue in the West Salem neighborhood is besieged by kudzu bugs: odiferous, squarish flying insects that congregate on his porch, screens, drainpipes and – well, pretty much everywhere on his property.

“We’re being held prisoner here,” Long said.

The invasive bug arrived from Japan and was first noticed in Georgia in 2009. Now they are spreading rapidly, and this is the time of year they give the most trouble, as they try to find someplace warm to make it through the winter.

“I have tried everything other than a blow torch,” Long said, as he swatted away the greenish-brown bugs that kept landing on his white T-shirt. “They were bad, and they got worse and now they are bad worse.”

The bugs don’t bite, but Long warns that if you squash one the smell is terrible and doesn’t wash off. He flicks them off his clothes as he makes his way across the yard.

“I came out yesterday to blow some leaves, and I was getting bombarded,” Long said. “The mail lady said it got in her hair.”

The bugs are all over his neighborhood, Long said, but they are not just there. Wendi Hartup, an agent with the Forsyth County Cooperative Extension Service, said that the phone has been ringing a lot with bugged callers on the other end. Long said that streets to the north of his home and areas along nearby Broad Street have similar problems.

“They are crazy little square-shaped bugs that stink,” Hartup said. “I tell people to just grin and bear it. They are going to have to treat it like they do stinkbugs – fill in the cracks and crevasses and work on energy conservation measures.”

The N.C. Department of Agriculture says the kudzu bug – its scientific name is Megacopta cribraria – has been in North Carolina since the fall of 2010. They feed by sucking plant juices. As their name suggests, they like kudzu, but they also like soybeans and other members of the legume family.

The bugs are active in the spring and produce a second generation in the fall, said Jerry McFadyen, who works as a pest-control supervisor for McNeely Pest Control here in Winston-Salem. McFadyen said an exterminator can treat houses to keep the bugs from getting inside, and that a pesticide applied to the house exterior will kill bugs that come into contact with it.

“You are not going to prevent them from coming to the house in the first place,” McFadyen said. “There is some evidence that getting rid of kudzu around the house helps. If you can get the property owner to clear it, some people will tell you that getting rid of the kudzu will help and some say it will not. There is no public health nuisance, so you probably couldn’t force someone to do it.”

McFadyen said buildings downtown have been infested by kudzu bugs borne aloft by the jet stream. No kudzu to get rid of there, he said.

In Long’s case, there is a big kudzu patch behind the houses across the street. When frost starts killing the kudzu, the experts say, the bugs start looking for protection from the cold. They hide in plant debris and behind tree bark, but houses look pretty inviting, too.

City officials said the city does not tackle kudzu on private property and doesn’t spray for the bugs. Forsyth County doesn’t combat the bugs either, officials said.

The bugs have no natural enemies.

“That is part of the problem,” said Tim Hambrick, an extension agent with the Forsyth County Cooperative Extension Service. “That is being researched very hard, but we don’t have anything.”

For now, people like Gay Kessler, who lives down the street from Long, will have to put up with the bugs.

“They are horrible,” Kessler said. “I had to take my swing down because you can’t come out.”

By Wesley Young/Winston-Salem Journal

2 comments

  • Kyle

    Yes, they were brought here by someone at the University of Georgia in Athens Ga. I lived with them for 3 years in Braselton Ga. They love light colors, any shades of white their favorite. I had a contract with a pest company, nothing they had would work. I even had a older friend that was a retired pest control man. He had some stuff that they used to use that had been outlawed by the government years ago and it would not kill the bugs either. My street was something out of a horror movie, so many of them.

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