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06.02.2009 Liberia

Entomologists Identify Mysterious Liberia Insects

By GNA
The identity of a mysterious plague of caterpillars and moths devastating crops and contaminating water supply in northern Liberia has been established through joint efforts by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI).
     
A statement issued by IITA yesterday said the mystery insects have been identified as Achaea catocaloides by George Goergen, IITA entomologist and taxonomist.
     
'The moth plague in Liberia is not African armyworms, or Spodoptera exempta, as earlier reported in the media, but belongs to the species Achaea catocaloides. Although Spodoptera and Achaea moths are related, their feeding and breeding habits are quite different. For example, caterpillars of armyworms generally don't attack trees as larvae of Achaea catocaloides do.'
     
It said his finding was based on vital information provided by the FAO and CABI from the outbreak sites.
 
Last Tuesday, the Liberian Minister of Agriculture Chris Toe confirmed Goergen's finding announcing that 'the caterpillars infesting villages, destroying crops and threatening food security of an estimated 350,000 people are of the Achaea catocaloides species'.
     
Achaea catocaloides is a member of Lepidoptera group known as fruit-sucking moths.
     
The adults pierce the ripening fruit and suck the juice. Rot-causing organisms then enter through these feeding punctures and cause early fruit drop.
     
'Without proper identification, the FAO and the Liberian government would have engaged in a huge effort fighting the wrong insect,' Manuele Tamò, IITA entomologist, said.
     
Eric Boa, Head of the Global Plant Clinic at CABI, added, 'Correct taxonomic identification of this insect is crucial for managing this worrying problem. Now efforts can be focused in the right direction.'
     
According to Goergen, the larvae, or caterpillars, of A chaea catocaloides are primarily forest insects that feed on trees.
     
However, populations can develop in large numbers and attack agricultural crops, especially in the absence or inefficiency of natural enemies brought about by climatic disturbances, such as the sudden interruption in rains, thereby leading to outbreaks of the moth.


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