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The Savior Insect That Limits The Spread Of Unwanted Cacti

The Savior Insect That Limits The Spread Of Unwanted Cacti

For well over a century now, researchers have been studying insect pests that feed on and/or kill prickly pear cacti. Much of this research has been done in South, Central and most of all, North America. This research is limited largely to North America for good reason; the prickly pear cacti, and many of the insects that feed on it, are native to the Americas. However, it would be a mistake to assume that prickly pear cacti can only be found in its native American environment, as this cactus species is considered invasive in other countries, most notably Australia. In Australia an entire region consisting of thirty million acres of pasture land was deemed useless after dense networks of prickly pear cacti were discovered infesting every inch of the land. Since prickly pear cacti is invasive in Australia, the spread of the plant is not held in check by natural insect predators. Here in America, the spread of this cactus species is slowed significantly by several native insect predators. One of these predators is officially referred to as Chelinidea vittiger, or the cactus bug, as it is more commonly known. Researchers are hoping that Australia’s problem with the invasive cactus can be solved by releasing cactus bugs into affected areas.

Whether or not prickly pear cacti will become an ecological problem in a particular area depends on why it is being grown. If the cactus is grown for ornamental reasons, or if the cactus species is being grown on foraging reserves, then the plant may not become an environmental threat. If the cacti is growing wild as a weed, it is often considered invasive. In america, prickly pear cactus growth is kept to a minimum thanks to natural predators such as scales, moths, beetles, coreids, and fungal diseases. In Australia, the prickly pear cactus species became a nuisance after it was imported into the country in order to serve as a host for dye-producing cochineal scales that had also been imported into the country. The idea to release cactus bugs into the Australian ecosystem has yet to be planned out by experts.

Do you think that releasing cactus bugs into the Australian environment is a wise idea?