Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A Necessary Weevil

The US has been invaded by European plants, and scientists are accordingly planning to import European insects that eat them:

Within a year, researchers in Minnesota and New York hope to unleash a German weevil that devours garlic mustard from root to leaf. They've been looking at the bug for a decade, plying it with dozens of other plants to learn whether it might eat anything else.
I assume that they're also looking at which predators eat these benevolent weevils, and with what effect. As this article notes, there have been cases in which insects that were imported to control other species caused more problems than they solved.
More serious is the case of an Argentine moth that dines on prickly pear cactus. Australians imported the creature in the 1920s to curb the spread of the cactus, which had been planted as a living fence. The moth worked splendidly, said George Schneider, biological administrator with the Florida Department of Agriculture.

Then other countries started using the moth, and in 1989 it appeared unbidden in the Sunshine State, chewing its way through already rare cactus species. It has since spread west, and agricultural officials fear eco-disaster should it make it to cactus-rich regions in Texas and Mexico.

Researchers are trying to curb its spread by releasing irradiated moths that will mate with the cactus killers to produce sterile offspring....
Obviously, it would've been better to keep things from getting to this point.

With that in mind, here's the proper way to proceed, as I see it. We should by all means use Ceutorhynchus scrobicollis to control garlic mustard. But instead of giving this pest the chance to get out of hand, we should import the dunnock to eat it. And while we're at it, we might as well bring the Eurasian sparrowhawk along, just to keep the dunnock in check. Planting a few acres of European hornbeam in target areas would help the sparrowhawk to feel at home, and would also present a pleasing picturesque aspect, particularly if we could import some full-bosomed peasant girls to sing Der Mai is Gekommen beneath their umbrageous boughs.

These bedirndled and rosy-cheeked maidens should ideally be employed at beer halls and grist mills (which could either be built according to traditional specifications or taken apart in Germany and reassembled here), and courted by dissolute but visionary students whose poems are overpopulated with naiads and trolls.

The only drawback I can see is the tendency of the Germans themselves to become invasive. While we're probably a match for them, it might be wise to import enough Russians and Brits to keep them from getting any ideas.

If anyone from the USDA would like to discuss this idea further, you can find me lying in the weeds near the corner of Yeon and Express, with a bottle of Cisco in my hand and my pants around my ankles.


Anonymous said...

Very nice cautionary tale there. And so compact. I think you might have the seed of a kind-of scary kids' book there, maybe something along the lines of The House That Jack Built.

Reminds me of a collection of George RR Martin short stories, Tuf Voyaging, about a fellow who had come into possession of a specific kind of spaceship: A seedship of the Ecological Engineering Corps. Two or three of the stories dealt rather brilliantly with exactly the kind of runaway meddling you describe. If you're into SF, it's well worth a read.

Unknown said...

i knew an old lady who swallowed a fly.....

Phila said...

i knew an old lady who swallowed a fly.....


Anonymous said...

You are smart and nice.