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New bugs, new problems for Southeast


I don’t know if it’s record hot weather, global climate change or just bad luck, but it seems the Southeast has been plagued in the past few years with more than our fair share of new, never-found-before insects.

Just a couple years ago, North Carolina sweet potato growers were confounded by the rapid development of a tiny white grub — and subsequently —  in some cases, near total destruction of marketable sweet potatoes. This particular white grub had never been found in North Carolina and had only been reported to occur, but cause no damage in a small area around Charleston, S.C.

Why or how the little critter got to southeastern North Carolina seems to be a mystery. Fortunately, quick thinking farmers, helped along by then new North Carolina State entomologist Mark Abney, seem to have the problem in hand. Still, who knows where these insects will pop up next and what crop they will attack. Peanuts are another subterranean crop and are grown in the same area — may be a reason for concern.

Abney says the scientific name for these pests is Plectris Aliena. It is so rare and so little is known about it that it has no common name — other than white grub.

“We know these insects were found in the Charleston S.C., area as far back as the 1930s. There was some work done with them on turf, but they don’t appear to have caused significant problems with crops. A lack of knowledge about Plectris Aliena is a big challenge in finding ways to manage it, Abney says.

In more recent times thebean plataspid, has spread north from Georgia into border counties with South Carolina. It is considered an invasive insect pest in other parts of the world, but prior to 2009 had not been found in North America.

In 2009, University of Georgia researchers found the new insect pest — first time in the northern hemisphere — in north Georgia.

The good news is that these bugs eat and can destroy kudzu. The bad news is they also attack other legumes, especially soybeans. These new insects are distant cousins to green and brown stinkbugs that cause problems in cotton and soybean in the Southeast.

Again, how these bugs got here from Asia, where they do considerable damage to a number of crops —soybeans being one, is up to some guesswork by entomologists. The best guess is that female eggs — all the cases are traced back to one female source — came in either at Atlanta, Ga.’s international airport or a smaller facility in Greenville, S.C.

Entomologists continue to scramble trying to decipher biological data from China and to get lab and field data about this critter. The process isn’t quick, neither is it high up on the budget ladder for any Land-Grant Institutions with which I am familiar?

The latest explosion in insect pressure — again a stink bug and distant cousin — some contend very distant from either the bean plataspid or commonly occurring brown, green and Southern green stink bug — is the marmorated brown stink bug.

This one shouldn’t be such a surprise. Back in November of 2009, in an article in Southeast Farm Press, former Virginia Tech doctoral student Amanda Koppel warned that the brown marmorated stink bug could be a pest of Southeastern farmers.

Koppel, who now works with malaria mosquitoes in Tahiti, studied natural pests of stink bugs, primarily brown, green and Southern green species that are becoming increasingly severe pests of crops in the Southeast.

Back in November of 2009, she warned, “On the horizon, Southeastern growers might well have another species of stink bugs to worry about. The brown marmorated stink bug is now an infrequent pest around houses, but has the potential to become a pest of crops,” Koppel said at the time

Now, Koppel’s major professor and long-time Virginia IPM director Ames Herbert says the new pest is, “expanding its range at an amazingly rapid rate. It is attacking a large number of fruit, vegetable, ornamental and row crops, and is also found on a wide variety of trees, bushes and weeds. In Virginia, it has spread into many new counties now as far south as Virginia Beach.” 

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