Moths to the Rescue?

Hawaii has a problem with an invasive weed, Senecio madagascariensis, known locally as “Fireweed” or Madagascar ragwort. Fireweed is believed to have been accidentally introduced into Hawaii in a shipment of mulch from Australia over a decade ago. The Fireweed has spread to several islands. Fireweed has pretty yellow flowers, but produces pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can cause liver damage and be deadly to livestock. Efforts to control the fireweed have been expensive and unsuccessful. Recently, a new biological control agent has been introduced to control the fireweed.

Madagascan Fireweed Moth larva Photo:Hawaii Dept. of Agriculture

Madagascan Fireweed Moth larva
Photo:Hawaii Dept. of Agriculture

Secusio extensa (Arctiidae), the Madagascan Fireweed Moth feeds on Fireweed in its native Madagascar. The moth is specific to plants that contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Extensive testing indicates that the moth will not be a danger to any of the native Hawaiian plants. The caterpillars feed voraciously on the leaves and defoliate the plants. Will the moth and its larvae finally get Fireweed under control in Hawaii? The experiment is underway.

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is a retired Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
This entry was posted in by jjneal, Environment, Invasive Species, Pest Management, Policy. Bookmark the permalink.

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