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'Kudzu bug' threatens to eat farmers' lunch in United States

In this Sept. 30, 2011 photo, Clemson University doctoral student Nick Seiter shows a sweep net filled with "kudzu bugs" caught in a test plot in Blackville, S.C.  Seiter is studying the invasive Asian bug, which is wreaking havoc on soybean crops. (AP Photo/Allen Breed)

In this Sept. 30, 2011 photo, Clemson University doctoral student Nick Seiter shows a sweep net filled with "kudzu bugs" caught in a test plot in Blackville, S.C. Seiter is studying the invasive Asian bug, which is wreaking havoc on soybean crops. (AP Photo/Allen Breed)

BLACKVILLE, S.C. -- Kudzu -- the "plant that ate the South" -- has finally met a pest that's just as voracious. Trouble is, the so-called "kudzu bug" is also fond of another East Asian transplant that we happen to like, and that is big money for American farmers.

Soybeans.

"When this insect is feeding on kudzu, it's beneficial," Clemson University entomologist Jeremy Greene says as he stands in a field swarming with the brown, pea-sized critters. "When it's feeding on soybeans, it's a pest."

Like kudzu, which was introduced to the South from Japan in the late 19th century as a fodder and a way to stem erosion on the region's worn-out farmlands, this insect is native to the Far East. And like the invasive vine, which "Deliverance" author James Dickey famously deemed "a vegetable form of cancer," the kudzu bug is running rampant.

Megacopta cribraria, as this member of the stinkbug family is known in scientific circles, was first identified near Atlanta in late October 2009. Since then, it has spread to most of Georgia and North Carolina, all of South Carolina, and several counties in Alabama.

And it shows no signs of stopping.