Yucky maids all in a row: Hungry, day-old
sawflies "tidy up" a melaleuca leaf.
wormy, squirmy little kids must like their veggies--a lot! They line up neatly
and munch the soft part of the leaf until they eat it all up. Then they crawl
to the next leaf and start again.
They really can't get enough, can they?
And they don't even need ketchup!
These bugs are the children of an
insect called the melaleuca sawfly.
Some people might think the sawfly kids
look yucky. And strangely, the only things they will eat are the leaves
of a large tree, the melaleuca (mell-uh-LUKE-uh).
But that's very good for the
environment in Florida. Why? Because melaleuca trees are marsh burglars, as
you'll soon see.
Can you see why melaleuca's nickname is
paperbark trees, have taken over huge areas of Florida's
There's lots of water in the
Everglades marsh, but melaleuca trees are thirsty thieves. They drink so much
that they can make life difficult--or impossible--for other plants, fish and
The water-robbing melaleuca did not
always grow in the Everglades. It came from Australia. Long before your
grandparents were born, people brought melaleuca seeds into the United States
and planted melaleuca trees around the Everglades to dry out the ground.
This worked--too well, in fact. The
trees went wild. They spread very fast. Huge parts of the Everglades marsh are
now forests of melaleuca.
Melaleuca, how perculia,
It's way too fast you grow!
But axe and spades won't save the 'Glades;
Try yucky maids all in a
In 1997, scientists released
the melaleuca leaf weevil in the Florida Everglades.
Today, most people
want to try to protect the remaining marsh, and even shrink the melaleuca
forest. That will mean getting rid of a lot of melaleuca trees.
To get some help
with this, scientists from the Agricultural Research Service went to
Australia, the melaleuca's natural home.
The scientists searched for some living
creature they might be able to use as a
would harm melaleuca, but leave other plants alone.
The scientists found several bugs
happily chewing on Australian melaleuca. One was the sawfly. Another was the
gray-brown melaleuca leaf weevil--just call them "gray-b's," for
The scientists couldn't just invite
their newfound friends over for a visit, however. First they had to make sure
the gray-b's would not harm other plants.
Sure enough, the gray-b's were very finicky, eating
only the leaves of melaleuca.
Since then, the scientists have set
loose hundreds of gray-b's in the Everglades melaleuca forest. The young
gray-b's are taking the melaleuca down a peg, one leaf at a time.
Above, visitors at the first release of melaleuca
leaf weevils walk amid 50-foot-high melaleucas. The trail is made of melaleuca
female adult sawfly prepares to lay her eggs on a melaleuca leaf. Go,
scarf down enough leaves, a melaleuca tree won't be able to survive. That's
because leaves are where the melaleuca, like any green plant, makes its food.
Scientists hope that, in time, the
gray-b's will help kill off many of the melaleuca trees.
Meanwhile, they're also testing the
young sawflies and other bugs to make sure they're safe to release in Florida.
If they pass, some may be released to join the gray-b's in their melaleuca
Then the Everglades could someday be more like its
old self again.
Those trees don't stand a chance!