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Moths to take on fireweed

The Hawaii Department of Agriculture announced Thursday it is working to produce large numbers of a moth it plans to use to fight off the fireweed, an invasive plant that is toxic to livestock and has caused havoc on the state’s prime pasture lands.

The department said in a press release that entomologists and researchers plan to release in early 2013 an insect known as the Madagascan Fireweed Moth, the larvae of which voraciously eats the leaves of the fireweed. The discovery of the insect came after a search of more than 13 years.

On Dec. 6, the state received approval for the plan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Years of extensive research have been conducted on this biocontrol program,” said Russell S. Kokubun, chairman of the Hawaii Board of Agriculture. “Control of this weed is one of the more important issues to Hawaii ranchers, and we are hopeful that it can be controlled by this natural process.”

In addition to producing generations of the moth, entomologists have also worked to grow the fireweed to host the insects.

“Until now, we have been able to keep generations of this moth alive under quarantine conditions,” said Darcy Oishi, section chief of the Biocontrol Section. “We have now switched gears and begun to ramp up production to increase the chances of successful control of fireweed. With the support of the ranchers and others, we hope to release more than 1 million moths this year.”


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