A Bug’s Life: Bio-Control in Idaho

Bio-control.  The term brings to mind hazard suits, radiation warning symbols, and toxic chemicals.  That image couldn’t be further from the truth, at least in this situation!  Bio-control in Idaho means using bugs to take down invasive, toxic weeds from our land.

Tansy Ragwort

Tansy Ragwort

During the Moscow session of Leadership Idaho Agriculture, we had a session on bio-control.  In our state, (as in many states) , we have problems with many toxic and invasive plants. There aren’t a lot of options for getting rid of weeds, especially in remote areas.  Enter bugs and other pathogens!

Every plant has a natural enemy to keep it in check.  All of our native plants have a natural enemy that prevents that plant from getting out of control in the environment.  Invasive weeds, however, came here without their natural enemy to control them.  That’s where bugs come in!

Tansy Ragwort flea beetle

Tansy Ragwort flea beetle

The insects used in controlling weeds aren’t just any old bug.  Each bug used in this program has gone through intensive research and testing.  What makes them special, you see, is that these bugs will only feed on the specific weed being targeted.  Our researchers go around the world to find each bug for each specific weed.  Once they have found a bug for, say, Canadian Thistle, they bring it back to Idaho, where it undergoes testing to ensure it will not only help to kill and control the thistles, but that it will not switch and start feeding on another type of plant.

Stand of Canada thistle

Stand of Canadian Thistle

Canada thistle stem weevil

Canada thistle stem weevil

Once an insect has gone through the testing phases, it is carefully released into areas where that particular weed is a problem.  Then, the bugs go to work!  Over a period of a few years, the weeds are typically reduced in number and size.  While the insects will never fully eradicate the weeds, they will help control the number of weeds growing, and also help control the spread of the weeds to new areas.

 

The life cycle of these insects revolve around the targeted weed.  Their eggs are laid on the plant, then the larvae often burrow through the plant to the roots, and the adults typically feed on the plant.  Each stage of the insect life cycle has an impact on the plant.

Pretty neat, right?!

Weeds currently being controlled in Idaho using natural pests include Canadian Thistle, Dalmation Toadflax, Diffuse Knapweed, Leafy Spurge, Purple Loosestrife, and many more.

For more information on bio-control in Idaho, visit the Idaho State Department of Agriculture’s site here.

 

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