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ARS Home » Southeast Area » Gainesville, Florida » Center for Medical, Agricultural and Veterinary Entomology » Insect Behavior and Biocontrol Research » Research » Research Project #431328

Research Project: Enhanced Mitigation Techniques for Control of Cactoblastis Cactorum

Location: Insect Behavior and Biocontrol Research

Project Number: 6036-22000-031-08-I
Project Type: Interagency Reimbursable Agreement

Start Date: Apr 1, 2017
End Date: Jul 1, 2018

The broad objective of this project is to improve control tactics for the Argentine cactus moth, Cactoblastis cactorum (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae), an invasive cactus-feeding moth that has rapidly expanded its geographical range along both the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts, invaded the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico (now eradicated), and threatened the Opuntia-based agriculture and ecosystems in the southwestern USA and Mexico. Specific objectives of this project are to develop sustainable control tactics that would minimize long term impacts of the moth on native desert ecosystems and commercial prickly pear cactus (Opuntia spp.) production areas. The primary tactics under development are biological control with a host specific parasitoid from Argentina, and the disruption of pheromone communication systems among larvae. Benefits of the proposed activities will be to limit population growth of C. cactorum through the introduction of natural enemies that attack the Argentine cactus moth and the introduction of new management tactics to minimize damage in commercial prickly pear cactus plantations. Biological control is the only self-perpetuating control option and practical approach to protecting the vast native prickly pear habitats in the desert Southwest and Mexico against an established population of the Argentine cactus moth. Preliminary research conducted in Argentina suggests that a newly described larval parasitoid, Apanteles opuntiarum (Braconidae) is host specific to C. cactorum, including other Cactoblastis species. Preliminary laboratory and field trials with the larval trail following pheromone, while still in the very early stages of development, continues to show promise as a potential management tool for use in both commercial and urban settings.

The research and development approach will include: (1) determination of the native field host range of the Argentine parasitoid (Apanteles (A.) opuntiarum) of the Argentine cactus moth (Cactoblastis (C.) cactorum) on co-evolved caterpillar hosts that feed in prickly pear cactus in Argentina; (2) evaluation of the impact and importance of A. opuntiarum attacking C. cactorum populations in its native Argentine range; (3) continued collaboration in the evaluation of the potential host range of A. opuntiarum on native North American non-target cactus feeding Lepidoptera, as well as other potential lepidopteran hosts, in Florida quarantine; (4) collection, transportation, and rearing of North American non-target cactus-feeding Lepidoptera for host range testing in Florida quarantine; (5) collaboration in field bioassay trials in Florida to evaluate the potential use of the C. cactorum larval trail-following pheromone and an affordable trail following pheromone mimic that interferes with neonate pad penetration.