Editorial | So What Eats the Wasps?

May 22, 2013 

Students of S.C. agriculture know all too well the frustrations and problems brought to the South by the invasive kudzu bug. The Asian insects, which were first discovered in the U.S. in 2009, emit a foul odor and a stinging chemical. In colder months they can invade homes and vehicles. They feast on legumes such as soybeans and can reduce a farmer’s soybean yields by as much as 60 percent.

Because they have no natural predators, the bugs have flourished in the South and can now be found in every county in the Carolinas and Georgia. But scientists have a plan: release the bugs’ Asian predator, a tiny parasitic wasp that lays its own eggs inside the kudzu bugs’ eggs, destroying their embryos. Researchers at Clemson and other regional universities planned to ask for permission this week to introduce the wasp.

We’re not entomologists, but plans such as these always seem overripe for mistakes. Some might recall the similar attempts of Australia at biological control. Three thousand South American cane toads, in one example, were released on the island continent in 1935 in a plan to control the cane beetles that were hurting sugarcane plantations. The problem? Nothing wanted to eat the poisonous cane toads. Today there are millions upon millions of the toads forcing out native species and Australia is in the midst of putting up toad fences to keep the pests from spreading further.

Will this introduction be more successful? Hopefully. Scientists say the wasp they plan to release is nonstinging and harmless to humans and animals and it has undergone extensive testing for environmental safety. That has us feeling a little more optimistic, but this is one of those decisions that cannot be undone.

Once released, there’s no putting the wasps back in the bottle. We certainly hope the researchers know what they’re doing.

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