Kudzu bugs overrun Lee County locales

Problematic pests try locals' patience
Apr. 14, 2013 @ 05:02 AM

They're small, black, smelly and driving some Lee County residents crazy.

Kudzu bugs (Megacopta cribraria) have begun to call the Sanford area home, and the Lee County Cooperative Extension has received calls daily concerning the little winged beetle, said Lee County Cooperative Extension Director Susan Condlin.

"They are so bad [people] have called the county manager about the problem, and they've called [Broadway Town Manager] Bob Stevens about this problem," Condlin said. "It's that time of year, and they are a nuisance."

While not dangerous to humans, the bugs can irritate people's skin if they land on them, she said.

"They flitter like lady bugs, and if you pinch them, they stink to high heaven," Condlin said. "But people are not in danger." 

With the arrival of warmer weather, the bugs are leaving their hibernation and looking for food — including Kudzu plants and soybeans. Several soybean farmers around Lee County have called the cooperative extension looking for solutions, she said.

Eliane Hathcock lives across from a soybean farm on Dalrymple Farm Road, and her home has been besieged by the insects.

"It's awful," she said. "My neighbors are bombarded, too. Sometimes you can't even get into your house."

Hathcock said she's sprayed her home eight times to get rid of the bugs, and her family rushes to and from the car and the house to avoid the beetles.

"They have a very bad smell if you squish them," she said. "I started calling them skunk bugs."

In recent years, the bugs have increased in number, Hathcock said, and she remembers seeing millions of the bugs last year during an outside gospel concert.

"There were millions of bugs," Hathcock said. "I have never seen such a mess in my life."

Lee County Manager John Crumpton said he's received one phone call about the bugs and, while a nuisance, they are not a public health hazard.

The bugs traveled from Asia to the Atlanta International Airport four years ago, and every county within North and South Carolina have confirmed sightings of the bugs. Homeowners can use chemicals containing bifenthrin to kill the insects, Condlin said.