Beetle Is Possible Biocontrol Against Skunk
Vine By Alfredo
October 8, 2003
A foreign flea beetle could hold the key to controlling skunk
vine, a weedy vine that is a serious problem in central Florida and Hawaii.
Agricultural Research Service scientists
found the beetle and other possible biocontrol candidates in Japan and Nepal,
where the beetle helps control skunk vine in the plant's native habitat.
Skunk vine (Paederia foetida) has invaded parts of the
southeastern United States and is expected to spread elsewhere. In addition to
its foul, sulfur-like stench, skunk vine grows densely over trees, ornamentals
and cash crops.
ARS entomologists Robert W. Pemberton and Paul D. Pratt of the
Plant Research Laboratory in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., lead a skunk vine
combat team. In the summer of 2002, they searched the plant's native territory
in Japan and Nepal for possible insect biological control agents against the
The scientists consider the flea beetle, Trachyaphthona
sordida, a high-priority candidate for biological control of the pest. They
also brought back a lace bug worth evaluating, along with other natural skunk
vine enemies discovered during the surveys.
During two weeks of intense work, they captured three batches of
200 flea beetles and shipped them to a quarantine laboratory at the
Hawaiian Department of Agriculture
in Honolulu. Testing will be done at that lab to determine what plants the
insects tend to feed on and assess any potential risk from their use as
This flea beetle has been recorded as feeding only on skunk
vine, and scientists doubt that it would pose a risk to agriculture or to
native ecosystems in the United States.
More information about this research can be found in the
October issue of
Agricultural Research magazine.
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.