Moth Eaten

19 Feb 2007

The voracious Cactoblastis cactorum moth, which originated in South America, was transferred to Australia in 1925 to control the spread of the prickly pear cactus, the latter having spread from a single plant in 1839 to over 20 million hectares.

In one decade the moth decimated the prickly pear population of Queensland and New South Wales, thus opening vast stretches of land up to agriculture again.

Last year the moth returned to Mexico’s Caribbean island of Isla Mujeres and last Friday Mexican officials announced that what could be a specimen of the Cactoblastis cactorum had been trapped close to Cancun on the Yucatan peninsula.

There are now fears that the moth will spread to Mexico’s cactus farming regions and pest control officers have set hundreds of traps along country’s Caribbean coastline and are searching hotel, private houses and buildings for signs of the species.

‘This is war,’ comments Enrique Sanchez, head of plant and animal health in Mexico. ‘If lots of them arrive we will try to destroy the largest number possible with pesticides.’

About 10,000 Mexican farmers grow the edible cactus, or nopal, whose leaves are commonly cooked and eaten in tacos or with eggs. The plant is an important source of fiber, vitamins and minerals.

La Cronica de Hoy

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