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Predator to control codling moth

A predator of the horticultural pest, codling moth, could soon be available in Australia.

December 11, 2012 4:06am

Apple and pear growers are excited by the prospect of an exotic predatory wasp being used to control codling moth — as long as it does not turn into the ‘‘cane toad of the insect world’’.

The codling moth is the most destructive pest affecting the global apple and pear industry.

Department of Primary Industries invertebrate sciences principal research scientist David Williams said Mastrus wasp, a natural predator of codling moth, was discovered in Kazakhstan and had been successfully used in California and Argentina to control codling moths.

Mr Williams said DPI had applied to the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service and other bodies to be able to release the small wasp.

DPI now has specimens of the wasp in quarantine, where tests are being done to find out if it specifically attacks codling moths and whether it poses any problems for native insects.

‘‘So it doesn’t become the cane toad of the insect world,’’ the Tatura-based scientist said.

Ardmona orchardist Andrew Plunkett said the industry relied on government bodies to ensure the Mastrus wasp did not become ‘‘another cane toad or fox’’.

Mr Plunkett said if the predatory insect passed the quarantine checks, it would be a welcome tool to help control codling moth.

‘‘Just because it worked in the US, doesn’t mean it will work here,’’ Mr Plunkett said.

Codling moths are one of the top two destructive pests at his family’s 200ha Ardmona orchard every year. Measures to control them are constant and expensive.

Mr Plunkett, who is also chairman of Fruit Growers Victoria, said having another control option was important because orchardists were vulnerable if they only had one option.

‘‘It would be nice to have another tool in the toolbox.’’

Mr Plunkett said orchardists were trying to reduce chemical use.

‘‘Society expects cleaner and cleaner fruit,’’ he said.

Plunkett Orchards uses as many integrated pest management strategies as possible.

‘‘We try to keep as many natural predator insects as we can,’’ Mr Plunkett said.

He said biological controls were already being used in the fruit growing industry and sometimes they were more effective in some regions and on some properties than others.

Mr Williams said if DPI received approval, as New Zealand had, preliminary work would be done in Victoria and then would spread to Australia’s other pome fruit growing areas.

He said the Mastrus wasp stung the codling moth caterpillar to anaesthetise it while it was hibernating under bark. The wasp then laid eggs on top of the caterpillar, and when the larvae hatched they fed on the caterpillar.

‘‘Codling moths can wipe out a whole crop if people do not intervene,’’ Mr Williams said.

Page 3: On the trail of the codling moth.

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