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New Handbook Makes Controlling Leafy Spurge Easier

By Hank Becker
January 2, 1998

Using Mother Nature to control leafy spurge, the noxious weed invading the Northern Plains, may become easier. That's because of a new manual chock-full of the most detailed information ever available about the 30 flea beetle species that consider leafy spurge a delicacy.

In the U.S., this weed is spreading rapidly across the western plains. It infests 5 million acres in at least 29 states. In Montana, North and South Dakota and Wyoming, control costs more than $144 million annually.

Several laboratories of the Agricultural Research Service are studying and testing Aphthona flea beetles as biological controls for leafy spurge. But limited knowledge of Aphthona's taxonomic classification is holding back the beetles' fullest possible use as spurge eaters.

Leafy spurge is native to the Palearctic, a region that includes Europe, parts of northwest Africa, and northern Asia. Now, ARS scientists have put together the Handbook of Palearctic Flea Beetles, which describes Aphthona and 56 other flea beetle genera.

According to the scientists, spurge-eating Aphthona beetles are very picky: they want only leafy spurge, known scientifically as Euphorbia esula. This means imported Aphthona pose no threat to the more than 100 native North American Euphorbia, including several protected species.

Scientific contact: Alexander Konstantinov and Natalia Vandenberg, ARS Systematic Entomology Laboratory, Washington, D.C., phone (202) 382-1794/1792, fax (202) 786-9422;

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