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5,000 Wasps a Week to Fight Cayman's Bug Invation
Wasps fly to the rescue of bug-invaded Caymans

Simon English in Grand Cayman

It sounds like a plot from a bad science-fiction movie. Just as a new government is rebuilding a nation after a devastating hurricane, the country is attacked by a pest that threatens to ruin agriculture. So the government imports swarms of killer wasps and parasitic beetles to eat the infestation. What could go wrong?

This is reality for the Cayman Islands, the tiny British protectorate in the Caribbean. In September 2004 Hurricane Ivan cut through the Caymans, home to 50,000 people. Now comes Pink Hibiscus Mealybug, which feeds on staples such as cucumber, lettuce, avocado and mango - and presents the islands with a new crisis.

Confirmation that the bug was on the island prompted an immediate reaction from the authorities. Thousands of parasitic beetles started arriving, courtesy of the US Department of Agriculture. Wasps will be introduced in two weeks. They will be released in the affected areas with the hope that, within a year, the bug will have been 90 per cent eradicated. However, the pink strain of mealybug is particularly nasty and it is nearly impossible to get rid of it completely. A tiny, sap-sucking insect, it forms colonies to feed on about 250 plant species, killing them by injecting a toxic saliva. The bug has a sticky protective coating, making it immune to pesticides and fire, the favoured method of some residents.

The wasps, Anagryrus kamali, are bred in Puerto Rico and shipped to Florida at a rate of 10,000 a week. The US Department of Agriculture has agreed to send 5,000 wasps a week to the Caymans for the foreseeable future.

Kurt Tibbetts, the Cayman Minister of Agriculture, told a meeting of farmers last week that they must not panic, while admitting that the government is somewhat short of data on the mealybug: 'We don't know exactly where it is, how long it has been here, or where it came from. But we know it is here

Source Guardian Unlimited