News, Jazz, NPR
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Environment

Invasive Brazilian Peppertree Has New Nemesis In Florida: Tiny Insect

Brazilian peppertree thrips, or Pseudophilothrips ichini. Courtesy/UF-IFAS
Brazilian peppertree thrips, or Pseudophilothrips ichini. Courtesy/UF-IFAS

Florida scientists launched an experiment Thursday morning using a small bug they believe will be a game-changer in controlling Brazilian peppertrees across the state.

The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences released Brazillian peppertree thrips onto Adams Ranch in Fort Pierce. The Ranch has been overtaken by the invasive plants.

In recent decades, Mike Adams said the trees have been an expensive problem on his 40,000 acre property.

"We spend about a quarter of a million dollars on controlling our Brazilian peppers every year so this will help decrease some of our cost,” he said. “Also we'll use a lot less chemicals for the environment."

UF-IFAS said the Brazilian peppertree is Florida's most serious invasive weed, costing the state more than $4.7 million every year to control. A press release said more than 700,000 of Florida’s natural areas, ranchlands and highway roadsides are consumed
UF-IFAS said the Brazilian peppertree is Florida's most serious invasive weed, costing the state more than $4.7 million every year to control. A press release said more than 700,000 acres of Florida’s natural areas, ranchlands and highway roadsides are consumed by the trees. Courtesy/UF-IFAS

Adams said he hopes these thrips will help create more grasslands for his cattle.

Speaking at the ranch, Kelly Curruthers with UF-IFAS said researchers traveled to Brazil to find the bug and have been working for more than 10 years to release them in Florida. 

"If this insect will establish and will eat the Brazilian peppertree we can really reduce the amount of herbicides that we use especially in those natural areas where you're worried about herbicides getting into the water or effecting the landscapes," Curruthers said.

She said the USDA finally recommended thrips for release after ensuring they will only eat Brazilian peppertrees.

Many small thrips on a Brazilian peppertree leaves. Courtesy/UF-IFAS
Courtesy/UF-IFAS

"So this is a very exciting time for the people of Florida,” said Eric Rohrig with the state Department of Agriculture who attended the release.

“Most people are impacted by Brazilian pepper whether they realize it or not, so this is just another wonderful opportunity for us to collaborate-- the University of Florida, United States Department of Agriculture, and Florida Department of Agriculture."