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Mexican insect enlisted to combat spiky pest

Minister for Tourism and Fair Trading
The Honourable Peter Lawlor
19/01/2010

Mexican insect enlisted to combat spiky pest

Biosecurity Queensland scientists have recruited a Mexican cochineal insect to 'chomp and destroy' the spiky Class-1 declared weed Hudson Pear.

Acting Minister for Primary Industries, Fisheries and Rural and Regional Queensland Peter Lawlor said Hudson Pear, or Cylindropuntia rosea, was introduced from Mexico.

"The cactus is covered in long, sharp spikes that are strong enough to puncture car tyres," he said.

"Although the weed is found mainly in north-western NSW, smaller infestations have been reported in Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

"The Mexican cochineal insect, Dactylopius tomentosus, will be trialled as a possible biological control method to stop the cactus from spreading.

"Queensland scientists are planning a pre-emptive strike on the weed before it invades Queensland and menaces humans, animals and car tyres.

Mr Lawlor said Biosecurity Queensland scientists were conductin g tests for Industry & Investment NSW to assess whether the insect was safe to release into a new environment.

"They'll do this in a secure containment facility to ensure the insect will not pose a threat to non-target species such as native and agricultural plants," the Minister said.

"If it proves to be safe and is released, populations of the insect are expected to build up to very high levels in the field due to the abundance of the weed.

"The insects will suck the juices out of the plant, making it unhealthy and hopefully killing it.

"Exotic weeds such as Hudson Pear have become so abundant outside their native range because they were originally introduced to Australia without their natural enemies."

Biosecurity Queensland principal entomologist Bill Palmer said as Hudson Pear originated from Mexico, an insect from the weed's native country was required to control it.

"A strain of this particular insect was highly effe ctive in destroying a close relative of Hudson Pear in South Africa and we're hoping to achieve similar results here," he said.

"While the trial is concentrating on NSW infestations, there is potential to use the insect to control infestations across the country.

"We may also then use the same cochineal insect on the closely related cactus, C. tunicata found around Mundubbera in the North Burnett region."

The Alan Fletcher Research Station in Sherwood, Brisbane, where the tests are taking place, has built a reputation for its world-class weed research, especially in the field of biological control.

For more information on pest weeds visit www.deedi.qld.gov.au or call the Biosecurity Queensland Business Information Centre on 13 25 23.

Note:

Insect has place in Aussie history

While the Mexican cochineal insect is now helping in the fight against declared pest Hudson Pear, cochineal insects have their own rightful place in Australia's history.

Another cactus, prickly pear, was first taken to Australia to grow the accompanying insects to provide dye for British soldiers' redcoat uniforms, and an attempt to start a cochineal dye industry in was made 1787.

The crimson-coloured dye produced by the insects, carmine, is today used primarily as a food colouring and for cosmetics.

Permanent Link: Mexican insect enlisted to combat spiky pest
Publish Date: 20 Jan 10

Queensland Government, Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries :
47 Mayers Road, Nambour
Phone: 07 5430 4911
Non-fixed: 13 25 23
Fax: 07 5430 4994

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