When Good Intentions Grow Bad: Bugs, Vines and Invasions

USDA: Bean plastapid nymphs on kudzu leaf. Photo by Yanzhuo Zhang.

Kudzu, once hailed as a “miracle vine,” is now a thorn in the side of folks throughout the Southeast. Once used by American farmers as a means to stop soil erosion, this pesky invasive species spread far beyond its intended boundaries. The foreign plant made itself at home in the U.S., wrapping around anything that stays still and smothering fields, old buildings and native plants in its leafy green clutches. Instead of a miracle vine, some folks now call Kudzu the “vine that ate the South.” And it’s far from finished.

The Asian plant is just one obnoxious and notorious character that highlights the trouble with invasive species. The large amount of kudzu in the Southeast is also attracting lots of annoying kudzu stink bugs with zero respect for national boundaries or personal space. Like brown marmorated stink bugs, the kudzu-loving pests are fond of invading homes, nibbling their way through crop fields and gardens and spreading general creepiness in their wake. As the saying goes, game recognizes game, and one invasive species can certainly play off of another.

USDA: Adult Kudzu Stink Bug. Photo by Joe Eger.

A new National Wildlife Federation report, Growing Risk: Addressing the Invasive Potential of Bioenergy Feedstocks, warns of the dangers of introducing non-native and genetically modified species into local ecosystems. Researchers recommend precaution and commonsense policy solutions so that good intentions don’t grow bad and out of control like kudzu. The qualities that make some foreign plants so attractive for agriculture and bioenergy production are the very characteristics that make them challenging to control once they escape and take root in our gardens, fields and backyards. Furthermore, mitigating and eliminating the impact of these invasive species can take a toll on native wildlife and taxpayers’ wallets.

Click here to find out more about the work the National Wildlife Federation is doing to stop the spread of invasive species and protect native wildlife. You can also read more about one man’s battle with stink bugs and their massive six-legged east coast invasion.