The following is an update on how the air potato beetles will be distributed at the current time, from Emily Kraus, head of the beetle rearing program:
We would like to make the public aware of extensive changes to the air potato beetle shipping program. The beetle biocontrol agents are officially established in the state. Each year they overwinter through the long vine dormant period and surviving beetles emerge, reproduce and spread throughout the general area each summer. Extensive research shows the beetles have reduced vine coverage, bulbil production, and bulbil size in many parts of the state. Overall this means the beetles are winning against the vine!
In the early years of the program several agencies collaborated to produce beetles and ship them around the state. Due to the success of the program we determined only one lab was needed to supplement the now-established populations, and so the Division of Plant Industry, Bureau of Methods Development and Biological Control in Gainesville assumed the role of beetle provider. As of May 2020, we received over 2,500 requests for beetles, meaning we would need to produce about 100,000 beetles over a several month period to fill all those requests. Knowing this would not be possible, we closed the requestor link. We will honor our promise to provide free beetles to those residents who have already requested them, though it may take some time for us to do so.
In addition to high public demand and a limited beetle supply, we must utilize the beetles in a way that is most effective to ensure widespread vine impact and insect establishment Therefore, we will send 50 beetles to requestors in isolated areas and 25 to requestors in county-wide clusters. In neighborhoods where beetles are currently established, and multiple requestors are within a small area we may send only 15 beetles per request, as we expect the natural population and total number of releases to provide good control.
In addition to altering the number of beetles we send, we have changed the “first come, first served” basis of the program. We will give priority to infestations that are in or near conservation and preservation areas, and counties where the beetles have not yet established We will continue to ensure beetles are sent into every county across the state.
We would still like to help as many individuals as possible across the state. To help us determine where the vine persists and where beetles have not appeared by summer we will open a link for citizens to report air potato vine infestations. The form will be very similar to the previous beetle request form and will help us identify release location priorities for 2021Please keep in mind vines generally begin to regrow in the spring approximately 1 month before beetles begin to emerge and reproduce. Only a small portion of adult beetles survive through the winter with no food source. These beetles require weeks weeks to begin feeding and multiplying. As they increase in numbers throughout the summer they self-disperse to new vine locations. Therefore, do not expect to see beetles at any given vine infestation until late spring or summer.
These changes reflect the high demand and success of the air potato beetle across the state. Our decisions are based off research performed since the initial release of the beetle and are meant to promote the continued establishment of the beetle and successful management of the vine.