Bug Farmers Sought to Raise Beneficial Beetles
Quinnipiac River Watershed Association Using Insects To Battle Invasive Plant
By ROBERTO GONZALEZ Courant Staff Writer
Calling all bug lovers. If you enjoy raising little crawling critters that will help the environment, then the Quinnipiac River Watershed Association has a job for you. "We need bug farmers," said Mary Mushinsky, the association's executive director. The bug in question is the Galerucella pusilla beetle. The beetle helps control the dreaded purple loosestrife, a pretty but harmful plant from Eurasia, which is displacing native plants on the Quinnipiac River. The leaf-eating beetles are also from Eurasia and love to dine on purple loosestrife. "Leaving the purple loosestrife unchecked will make the river more sterile," Mushinsky said. "The purple loosestrife doesn't allow cattails and other native plants to grow. Bugs and other animals don't know what to do with this new plant. They can't eat it, so they leave." The effect of displacing native plant species is a degradation of food, shelter and nesting sites for wildlife. Europeans brought purple loosestrife to this continent about 200 years ago. The ornamental plants became popular and began spreading quickly, causing problems in wetlands throughout the country. For five years, the association's staff and volunteers helped the University of Connecticut monitor three test sites in the Quinnipiac Watershed: Panthorn Park in Southington, Hanover Pond in Meriden and a headwaters wetland on the Meriden-Cheshire town line. Students at Strong Elementary School raised the beetles for the Panthorn Park site in Southington, Mushinsky said. "The bugs have successfully munched away a lot of the plants," Mushinsky said. "They don't seem to have a taste for our own natural plants. You could see the cattails and other plants coming back." About 20,000 beetles - 10,000 in Panthorn Park alone - were released in the three Quinnipiac Watershed sites about five years ago, said Donna Ellis, an extension educator at UConn's Department of Plant Science. More than 300,000 beetles were also released in 40 wetlands statewide, Ellis said. "It's a great sustainable way to control the purple loosestrife," Ellis said. "It can take awhile, depending on the size of the wetlands and how large the infestation is. It can take from five to 10 years, but in some places it's taken as little as three years." The association is recruiting town commissions, public works departments, schools and outdoor-loving residents to raise more of the hungry little beetles to be dispersed in the Quinnipiac Watershed area. Raising the bugs, which are about a quarter of an inch long, is easy and begins in the spring. The association will provide instructions on where to find parent beetles and how to place them in a mesh cage with a potted purple loosestrife plant. Participants can leave the potted plant in their backyards, Mushinsky said. The beetles will produce about 1,000 young a month inside the mesh bag. Volunteers then take the pot and bag to a local loosestrife infestation area and release them, Mushinsky said. To volunteer or learn more information, call the watershed association at 203-237-2237.
Copyright 2003, Hartford Courant http://www.ctnow.com/news/opinion/editorials/hc-qrwabeetle12nov19,1,3632560,print.story?coll=hc-headlines-editorials
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