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UD researcher uses insect as weapon against invasive mile-a-minute weed

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If you venture along the hiking trails at White Clay Creek State Park in Newark, you come across a long vine with triangular leaves and stems covered with barbs.

This is the invasive mile-a-minute weed. In the 1930s, the vine traveled from Asia to a nursery in Pennsylvania, where in a matter of years, it broke loose and began to conquer the surrounding the environment. The weed has now has invaded 12 states in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the U.S.  In Delaware, the mile-a-minute weed has a patchy presence. In addition to White Clay Creek State Park, it can also be seen in tax ditches downstate.

Like its southern counterpart, kudzu, the mile-a-minute smothers life in its path.

“It scrambles over the other plants. That’s what the spines are for, to let it grow over other plants. So it suppresses the growth of whatever happens to be there,” said Judy Hough-Goldstein, an entomologist at University of Delaware. “It actually produces monocultures, so it can prevent regeneration in trees. It was a problem in Christmas trees for that reason.”

Hough-Goldstein has been working on a solution to tackling the mile-a-minute weed. In the last 10 years, she’s been studying an insect plucked from China, called the mile-a-minute weevil. The weevil has shown to be highly effective in studies, since it feasts exclusively on the mile-a-minute weed.

“It lays its eggs right on mile-a-minute,” said Hough-Goldstein. “The eggs hatch. The larvae bores the stems. When they fully develop, they drop to the ground and form pupae. The adults come out, they mate on the plant, and then they continue their life cycle.”

Hough-Goldstein presented her latest findings on the mile-a-minute weevil at the Entomological Society’s Eastern Branch Meeting in Rehoboth Beach, which took place from March 14 to 17.