Palm Mite is Red Threat on the Horizon
Tokarz May 18, 2007
A tiny mite is creating a big stir in this hemisphere's tropics.
Scientists with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the Animal and Plant Health
Inspection Service (APHIS) have joined
a multinational effort to stop the red palm mite, an invasive pest that rides
the wind and, until now, was mainly known for attacking coconut palms in the
Eastern Hemisphere's tropical and subtropical regions.
Ochoa, a mite expert at the
Systematic Entomology Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., the red palm mite has
been found in the Caribbean region, including on U.S. soil in Puerto Rico and
The fast spread of this pest, which causes serious leaf damage,
constitutes the biggest mite explosion ever observed in the Americas, according
to Ochoa. He added that, in Trinidad, he and colleagues estimated there were 30
to 100 million mites per palm.
At stake may be more than just the health of sectors of the ornamental
plants industry and the palm trees that are synonymous with the tropical
lifestyle. On Dominica, the mite has attacked banana plants, and a grower in
Trinidad indicated that he anticipates a 50 percent loss in coconut production
on his property, according to Ochoa.
The red palm mite, Raoiella indica, was first described in 1924
in India, and identified in the Western Hemisphere three years ago on
Martinique. Its calling cards include yellow-spotted or totally discolored palm
leaves, and reddish-brown areas signaling mite clusters.
USDA scientists have learned a great deal about the mite since being
alerted to its presence by concerned officials representing several Caribbean
nations. It's hoped that their studies will help lead to biological and
chemical controls and a means of monitoring for new hosts of the mite.
about this research in the May/June 2007 issue of Agricultural Research
ARS and APHIS are part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). ARS is USDA's chief in-house scientific