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Little Red Beetle Beating Up on Air Potato

September 8, 2014

…and we’re not talking about Grandpa’s first car.

AirPotatoBeetleWe’ve recently received some questions from our social media followers about the leaf beetles the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has been rearing and releasing against the invasive air potato. Questions like, “How can I have some released in my neighborhood,” and “are they sterile?”

These little red beetles, Lilioceris cheni — which are kind of cute, we think — are air potato-eating machines. Where they have been released, they have significantly reduced the out-of-control vines. Their diet is limited to the air potato. which they consume enthusiastically, giving native plants room to grow and become more competitive. Air potato vines die back in the fall and sprout in the spring, but the beetles are able to survive the winter months without food.

air_potato_leaf_beetle09

Air potato leaf beetles in action, chomping away to save native plant species.

Air potato, Dioscorea bulbifera, is an invasive, high-climbing vine that tends to out-compete vegetation by smothering native species. It is listed as a noxious weed by FDACS and a Category I invasive plant by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council.

 

The biocontrol program is a partnership between FDACS, the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, which funded the original project.

The FDACS Division of Plant Industry began releases in the summer of 2012. Beetle populations have increased at release sites inducing varying levels of damage. Lilioceris cheni is being widely distributed on both public and private lands throughout Florida.

So if you find yourself calling for help to get rid of this out-of-control invasive plant, know that the beetles are on the way! 

If you encounter this vine, call our Helpline at (352) 395-4600. We may be able to arrange a beetle release in your neighborhood.

Click here for more information on biological control of air potato and a form requesting a release of the beetles. Complete the form and return it to Dr. Eric Rohrig.

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