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Photo: Scanning electron micrograph of coffee berry borer. Link to photo information
Scanning electron micrograph of coffee berry borer. Click the image for more information about it.

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Stopping the Coffee Berry Borer from Boring into Profits

By Sharon Durham
November 2, 2004

An Agricultural Research Service scientist is finding new ways to combat the coffee berry borer, an insect that threatens the quality of the bean that provides the daily wake-up call for millions of people in the United States and worldwide.

The tiny borer spends its entire larval life inside the coffee berry, which encases the seed, commonly known as the coffee bean. Males mate with females inside the berry but never leave it. Mated females emerge to fly to a new berry and bore into it, lay eggs and start the cycle anew. Only while outside the berry are the adult female borers vulnerable to pest management methods.

One potential pest management method is the application of Beauveria bassiana, a fungus that is pathogenic to insects. The challenge is to get the fungus in contact with an insect pest that spends most of its life inside the coffee berry. ARS entomologist Fernando E. Vega and his colleagues at the Insect Biocontrol Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., found the fungus can become established within plant tissue. The goal is to make the fungus thrive in the coffee plant, thus exposing it to the borer, according to Vega.

Certain microscopic worms called nematodes may also offer a method to control the borer. In collaboration with scientists in Mexico, Vega found that when the females of a particular nematode genus parasitized female coffee berry borers, the result was not death, but a reduction in reproductive efficiency. Non-parasitized insects laid an average of 10 eggs, but parasitized borers laid just two eggs on average. Over time, this control method may help reduce the overall population.

Worldwide, coffee berry borers cause about $500 million in damage to the crop annually. They eat holes in the beans, lowering the crop's quality and reducing the coffee growers' income.

Read more about the research in the November 2004 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.