The enemy and devourer of the air potato vine is coming to north Florida. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and partners are sponsoring an Air Potato Challenge to distribute air potato leaf beetles to people trying to get rid of invasive air potato vines on their property. Air potato leaf beetles will be handed out to people at two free upcoming events:
Friday, May 18, Leon County – The event will be from 9 a.m. to noon at the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, Center for Viticulture and Small Fruit Research, 6505 Mahan Drive, Tallahassee.
Wednesday, June 6, Bay County – The event will be from 9 a.m. to noon at the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension Office, 2728 E. 14th St., Panama City, followed by an afternoon talk and workshop.
“Air potato leaf beetles are being used in Florida as a safe natural bio-control that helps us combat the invasive air potato vine. This nonnative vine can grow up to 8 inches a day and up to 70 feet in length, crowding out or killing native vegetation,” said Matt Phillips, who leads the FWC’s invasive plants section. “Air potato leaf beetles are small, colorful and harmless to us and other plants, but they have aggressive appetites when it comes to eating air potato vines.”
People who attend Air Potato Challenge events should bring a sample of air potato vine from their yard or land, so its identification can be verified by biologists. If they do have the vine, people will receive a container of ten to 100 air potato leaf beetles to take home and release on their property.
The events are informal, and people are invited to come and go throughout the morning. People are asked to pre-register for the events at http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/stlucieco/2018/04/04/2018-air-potato-challenge-days/. Beetles also will be available to people who attend and have not pre-registered.
The Air Potato Challenge is being sponsored by the FWC and partners, including UF/IFAS, FAMU Center for Biological Control, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and U.S. Department of Agriculture. The beneficial beetles are reared at FDACS’ Division of Plant Industry’s biological control facilities in Gainesville.
Can’t attend an Air Potato Challenge event? You can order air potato leaf beetles at http://bcrcl.ifas.ufl.edu/airpotatofiles/airpotatoforms.shtml.
Air potato is one of Florida’s most problematic invasive plants. The air potato leaf beetle (Lilioceris cheni) is bright red, about the size of your little fingernail, and has a big appetite only for the invasive air potato plant whose vines can completely consume natural areas, smothering other plants and degrading native habitat. Researchers have shown that air potato leaf beetles are host-specific to air potato vines and will not feed on other plants. The beetles chew through air potato leaves, leaving them riddled with holes.
Air potato leaf beetles were discovered in Nepal and China by scientists from the USDA’s Invasive Plant Research Laboratory in Fort Lauderdale, and were first released in Florida as a biological control agent in 2011. After a successful rearing program took flight, FDACS’ Division of Plant Industry began releases in the summer of 2012. Beetle populations have increased at release sites, inducing varying levels of air potato vine destruction. Air potato leaf beetles are being widely distributed on both public and private lands throughout Florida.
Learn more about the air potato vine and air potato leaf beetle at https://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/plant-directory/dioscorea-bulbifera/ and FreshFromFlorida.com.