Dangerous pest threatens Jamaican plants

KINGSTON, Jamaica, Monday January 31, 2011 – Authorities in Jamaica are moving fast to contain and eradicate a pest that threatens to destroy many of the island’s crops.

The Papaya Mealybug which was detected in the Caribbean in 1993, has been found in Jamaica but a statement from the Ministry of Agriculture says it’s not yet clear how it got into the country.

To date, it has been detected on seven types of plants: fruit trees like the West Indian cherry and papaya; ornamentals such as hibiscus and frangipani; legumes such as gungo peas; root crops like cassava; and forest tree (teak).

“We are well aware of the critical nature of this new outbreak in Kingston and the scope to spread, and as such has been enforcing an integrated pest management to contain the pest,” the Ministry said. 

“Among the measures being enforced are pruning and field sanitation, releasing predator and parasitoids (tiny wasps) and the importation of natural enemies from certified rearing facilities. The natural enemies are no threat to humans as it feeds only on the Mealybug and have successfully reduced its population. Once released, the wasp is monitored to determine impact and dispersion.”

The Papaya Mealybug originated in Mexico, where it developed alongside natural enemies and was first identified in 1992. It is a particularly devastating pest because it is polyphagous (feeds on many things) resulting in the curling and twisting of leaves, flowers may become distorted and fail to open, as well as fruit blemish and sooty mould. 

The insect’s host range includes more than 60 species of plants: cassava, papaya, beans, eggplant, melons, hibiscus, plumeria, pepper, sweet potato, tomato, citrus, mango and sour sop.

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