Caterpillar’s devastating march across China spurs hunt for native predator

Scientists hope that insects such as stink bugs could keep the fall armyworm in check.

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Jun 21, 2019
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A hungry caterpillar that ravages crops is advancing across China and threatening the nation’s vast supply of maize. Scientists are investigating ways to minimize the damage caused by the invasive fall armyworm — which was first detected in China in January — including experimenting with native predators that could keep the pest in check. Some researchers say that the insect’s spread might have been slowed if the country grew genetically modified food crops.

The fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda), a native of Central and South America, has spread around the world in the past few years, causing devastation of crops in parts of Africa and southern Asia. Since its arrival in China, it has been found in 18 provinces, regions and municipalities, according to China’s ministry of agriculture.

So far, damage caused by the caterpillar — mostly to maize (corn), but also to other crops such as sugarcane — in China is considered manageable. But Hu Gao, an entomologist at Nanjing Agricultural University who is monitoring the insect’s spread, says researchers and farmers fear what will happen when the pest arrives, probably later this month, at the North China Plain. China is the world’s second-largest producer of maize, and the northern plain produces almost 30% of the country’s crop.

By: Andrew Silver/Nature News

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