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Kudzu bug and other insects emerge in Miss-Lou

040515SundayFocus

With rising temperatures, seasonal insects are making their spring debut. (Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat)

After a month in which February couldn’t make up its mind if it was going to be cold or colder, spring has come barreling into the Miss-Lou, pushing residents out of their houses and into the great outdoors.

But people and pets aren’t the only ones emerging from a near-hypothermic haze. Some of the area’s smaller and often antennaed residents are waking up as well.

The Adams County Extension Service has received nearly two dozen calls in recent days because an insect apparently unfamiliar to many has started to emerge, seemingly invading homes.

“A lot of folks were just curious about what we knew, they were thinking they were finding brown lady bugs, but when they smashed them, they stunk like stinkbugs,” said Adams County Extension Service Agent David Carter.

The insect in question is the kudzu bug, a non-native species that feeds on the famous invasive plant from which it draws its name.

But the invasion is actually one in reverse.

“Stink bugs, and kudzu bugs, overwinter as adults,” said Blake Layton, an entomologist with Mississippi State University. “Apparently they have a mechanism that allows them to withstand some pretty cold temperatures, and it gets cold in their native lands. But during the winter they will leave their plant host and come into buildings — they think they are looking for cracks and rocks, but what they see are our houses.”

And that seems to be the story with many of the supposed spring insect invaders. Paper wasps overwinter as mated females in hollow trees — but an attic void will work just as well. The Asian lady beetle, like the kudzu bug, is looking for cracks to hole up in during the winter.

“The best control for these winter invaders like paper wasps and Asian lady beetles is proactive exclusion,” Layton said. “Let’s do our best to make the house as sealed off, as bug proof as possible while the bugs are outside during the summer. You don’t want to trap them inside in the winter.”

But while some invaders make their invasion evident only after the fact, others will make themselves known with an ethereal noise.

Last year, Adams County experienced the emergence of a brood of 13-year cicadas, the locust-like insect that spends much of its lifecycle tunneled underground. When they emerge, the cicadas sing in a manner similar to grasshoppers.

“There are three broods of these 13-year-cicadas in the world, and Mississippi is the only place that has all three,” Layton said. “Last year they emerged in 13 counties, and this year they should in about 40 counties.”

The cicadas lay their eggs in hardwood trees by cutting slits in twigs, and when the eggs hatch six weeks later, the nymphs will fall to the ground and burrow into the ground again.

Though the insects are not dangerous, according to information from the Mississippi State University Extension Service, they can damage some trees during the egg-laying process.

The only way to prevent this for sure is to cover trees with a net small enough to exclude the cicadas, according to the extension service.

Other invaders may serve as a gentle flag that something is wrong in the home. Carpenter ants, for example, will only enter if the environment has something to offer them.

“They prefer to use soft, decaying moist wood,” Layton said. “I have seen them chew into sound lumber, but in nature they are going to be inside a hollow tree. They are not eating wood just for the sake of wood. When they are nesting in wood in homes, that is most often a sign of a moisture problem.”

But the carpenter ant’s less loveable cousin, the invasive fire ant, is also likely to appear, and any fight against it is not going to be “one and done,” Layton said.

“To me, the most useful tool, and one of the most environmentally friendly, are the specialized fire ant balls,” he said. “You spread it over the yard, and the fire ants will take it back to their nest and in the next month or two you will see the benefit. A lot of people think you put it on top of the fire ant bed, but you should spread it over the yard before they even pop up, and you should spread it three times a year, spring, summer and fall.”

But the best weapon against pests that isn’t chemical in nature is also the most beautiful.

“If they have a variety of plants in their garden, especially plants with blooms and bulbs, it helps encourage other beneficial insects, predators and parasites, to be around,” Layton said. “You have a healthier ecosystem. For every pest insect – no matter which pest it is – there are many different predator and parasite problems that affect that insect that help keep its population in check.”