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Beetle invades crops; Extension preparing for counterattack

Washington State University Extension is seeking information from farmers who have infestations of  cereal leaf beetles in their fields to aid a statewide biocontrol project. (Photo left)

Biocontrol is the deliberate use of one living organism to control another.

The cereal leaf beetle is a newcomer to the state, according to Diana Roberts, WSU Spokane County area extension educator.  “While it can infest most crops in the grass family, including Timothy hay, the insect prefers oats, wheat, and barley. Spring crops and irrigated fields usually experience most loss.”

She said that both adult and larval stages of the insect feed on plants and damage appears as longitudinal white streaks between the leaf veins.

Adult beetles are a quarter of an inch long with a dark, shiny abdomen and characteristic red prothorax and legs. The larvae are up to a quarter of an inch long and are cream colored, but protect themselves with coverings of dark fecal material.

Insect bicontrols have been successful in most states in maintaining populations of the insect below economic levels. WSU, together with U.S.
Department of Agriculture Animal Plant Health Inspection Service and the Washington State Department of Agriculture wants to establish biocontrols in the state before the cereal leaf beetle becomes widespread.

“We have already recovered specific biocontrol species, which we released in insectaries, that have over-wintered successfully in our area and have parasitized cereal leaf beetles,” Roberts said.  “Our goal is to multiply these biocontrols in insectaries placed strategically across grain production

Farmers who know their fields are infested with cereal leaf beetle or who have sprayed for it can aid the biocontrol effort by contacting Roberts at (509) 477 2167 or by email at .  Please provide your name, contact information, location, crops affected and number of acres sprayed.

“This will enable us to document cereal leaf beetle damage and to assess fields to determine where to establish further insectaries,” Roberts said.

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