The kudzu bug originated in east Asia and India and showed up in Georgia, Bray's home state, in 2009. And like its viney plant namesake, the kudzu bug has earned a negative reputation.
"Everybody in Georgia knows about the kudzu bug," Bray says. Since the bug is attracted to white surfaces, "Anyone with a house painted white has tons of bugs all over it."
The pest, with its piercing, sucking mouthparts, also brings a taste for soybean plants, a cash crop worth $40 billion a year in the United States. The bug's invasion has led to crop losses of almost 20% in states like Georgia and South Carolina. Bray's research through the University of Georgia investigated the bug's destruction of soybeans -- and how to protect the crop.
Some wild relatives of soybean have developed resistance to insect pests after being exposed to them over the long term. The adapted plants have slowly built defense mechanisms against pests. Some damage a bug's ability to reproduce or to get enough nutrition. Others have altered their appearance, smell, or taste so bugs don't find them appetizing anymore.