Biological war against red weevil menace

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DOOMED: no palm is safe


AN ELCHE nursery is combating the red weevil menace with biological warfare.

Week after week, Alicante towns lose palm trees to the deadly pest, said to have arrived from Egypt in shipments of infected palms in 1994. Since then thousands of palms throughout Spain have died.

On taking hold there is little that can be done and Alicante is a principal victim, although weevils are present in Valencia, Castellon, Murcia and Andalucia. Isolated cases have been detected in Cataluña.

Elche, whose palm forest is a Unesco Heritage site, is anxious to eradicate the weevils and the council’s Parks and Gardens department has decided to use radical means.

The cold store at the Hort de la Molinera, Elche’s principal date palm nursery, holds 170 phials, each containing 250 million microscopic larvae called nematodes.

One at a time the phials’ contents are dissolved in liquid and sprayed on threatened palms.

The procedure is harmless to humans, said Parks and Gardens councillor Manuel Rodriguez, but not red weevils. The larvae will hatch, grow and attack insects lurking inside the palms.

This type of biology is just one weapon in the armoury, Rodriguez said, although he did not rule out using chemical insecticides.

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