Okay maybe not everyone wants biocontrol, but the idea of a bug eating a bad plant away instead of using a pesticide sounds good to most folk. Good for the earth and all that. This is what we call biocontrol in the world of invasive plants. It is one of the three major elements of my job, capturing bugs in one place and working to get them to another spot.
First one might wonder why we move bugs. These bugs need the invasive plant to eat and survive. They are tested in closed environments for years to ensure that they eat ONLY the invasive plant. Some bugs can’t move from a spot to another spot without assistance, they don’t fly or propel themselves great distances, so once they eat the invasive plants up they need help to get to the next patch of weeds Other times the bugs are found in such large quantities that if they all stay at their location they will not have enough food to survive. The idea in all cases is that we don’t want these bugs to die, but to continue to be one of the elements to help keep these invasive plants in check. So moving them on to other places and sources of food allows there to be a viable population for next year or a new location that has yet to, to establish a population.
These bugs can be collected many ways, but there are three that I worked with this year. One way is to tip the plant with the bug over a big tray, almost like a cake pan and tap it so that the bugs fall into the pan. This is kind of a sucky thing to do. Mostly because you get all the bugs….spiders and ticks included. It also means you spend hours bent over to do this chore. This was the kind of work I did a couple of weeks ago. Another way you can collect bugs is with a sweep net. You then dump what you catch into a homemade contraption called a separator. The bugs crawl out of the duff/weeds/sticks you collect with them and then you knock them into a cup at the bottom of separator. This can work up quite a sweat when you are our there waving your arms around, as it gets your heart rate pumping. This is what I did last week. Next week I will collect bugs a different way. It is one when you go out and actually pick the bugs off the weeds and drop them gently into a container.
As you can likely tell by reading this blog about biocontrol, it is a very labor intensive project. You have to watch and keep track of your populations and be willing to go out there and take action when they need a little human help. It is one of those things everyone wants until they find out how much effort it takes. I am out there helping your government making a difference in managing invasive weeds. They are putting forth the effort needed and most of the world will never know.