- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 10, 2006

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — To battle one invasive species, Maryland biologists are turning to another.

The state Department of Natural Resources planned to release about 5,500 European leaf beetles yesterday near Preston in Caroline County.

The beetles are thought to help stamp out an invasive plant species that is smothering wetlands.

The beetles eat loosestrife, a tall herb with purple and pink flowers that grows in dense patches and has crowded out some native Chesapeake plants such as rushes and cattails.

The state bought 60,000 beetles — at a cost of 11 cents apiece — for release this year.

The Galerucella beetles were to be freed near the Choptank River, said Kerrie Kyde, an invasive-plant specialist with the state agency.

She said that the loosestrife is hurting not just other plants but animals that live in marshes such as bitterns and bog turtles.

“This is a Eurasian plant that came over in the 1800s in the ballast water of ships and started to spread,” Miss Kyde told the Baltimore Sun. “It’s a really pretty plant, but it tends to take over, producing millions of seeds and crowding out and shading out other things.”

The beetles have been used over the past decade to control loosestrife in New York, New Jersey, Minnesota and elsewhere.

Maryland scientists released some of the beetles from 1999 to 2003, Miss Kyde said.

Now the state is planning to release many more. This year state biologists also are holding on to some beetles to breed, so that Maryland-raised beetles can be used to battle the herb.

Miss Kyde told the newspaper that it’s unlikely the beetles would overproduce and compete with native insects. She said they eat only loosestrife and other invasive plants.

“These beetles don’t finish their life cycles on any other plant,” she said.

In Europe, where loosestrife and beetles have long coexisted, only small, scattered clusters of the loosestrife grow.

But in the United States, where the herb exists but not the beetle, the loosestrife has overrun wetlands in New England, the Midwest and parts of the Northwest.

The beetles were to arrive from New Jersey in Annapolis yesterday. Then Miss Kyde and another worker were to drive them over to the Eastern Shore.

The beetles arrive in cardboard boxes that resemble Chinese takeout boxes, she said, and are released by placing them at the base of a plant.

“The beetles immediately start rising from it and settling on the plant and chowing down because they’re pretty hungry,” Miss Kyde said.

Because the beetles take a few years to get established, Miss Kyde said a big decrease in the amount of loosestrife isn’t expected until about 2009.

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