Australian Moth May Subdue
By Marcia Wood
June 7, 2000
A tiny moth from Australia may become
the first insect used in the United States to fight Old World climbing
fernan invasive weed that threatens Floridas Everglades and other
Known as Lygodium microphyllum, the fern forms walls of light-green
vegetation when it makes its way up tree trunks and into the canopy. It also
forms tough, spongy mats that smother low-growing plants.
The moth, Cataclysta camptozonale, measures only a half-inch from
wingtip to wingtip. It is bright-white with a few black and brown spots and
stripes on its wings.
Scientists at the ARS Australian Biological
Control Laboratory at Indooroopilly, Australia--near Brisbane--collected
the fern-fighting moth and tested it with 15 different kinds of ferns.
Experiments led by laboratory director John A. Goolsby indicated that the
moths slender, wormlike larvae will feed on--in addition to climbing
fern--a related weed called L. japonicum and a native North American
fern called L. palmatum. Goolsby expects follow-up tests at
Indooroopilly to show that the subtropical moth could not survive the cold
temperatures of the eastern United States, where L. palmatum ferns grow.
Goolsby and colleagues with Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research
Organization have sent more than 250 C. camptozonale moths to
Gainesville, Fla. There, the insects will undergo testing by Gary R. Buckingham
of the ARS
Plant Research Laboratory, and by University
of Florida co-researchers. If those studies and additional experiments in
Australia show that the moth wont harm native or crop plants, the
researchers may seek federal and state permission to turn the helpful insect
loose at climbing-fern-infested sites in Florida.
Aerial surveys by the South Florida Water Management District indicate that
the fern spread from an estimated 39,000 acres in 1997 to more than 100,000
acres in 1999.
Scientific contact: John A. Goolsby, ARS Australian Biological
Control Laboratory, Indooroopilly, Queensland, Australia, phone 617 3214 2821,