A foreign bug species is sucking the life out of crops and native plants across Barbados, which has already been overrun by an infestation of ravenous snails that are rapidly destroying cultivated fields.
The new invader in the Caribbean-area island's burgeoning pest crisis is Icerya genistae, a tiny, oval-shape white insect believed to be native to Brazil that is so obscure it has no common name, according to scientists with the Barbadian Agriculture Ministry.
The sap-sucking pest has attacked 21 varieties of wild plants, ornamentals and vegetables across the 270-square-mile tropical country and scientists are quickly trying to determine the bug's geographical range, government entomologist Brett Taylor said Tuesday.
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Peanut fields in northern St. Peter's parish and sweet peppers in eastern St. Philips have already been decimated by the insect, which resembles a mealybug. It has also damaged fields of hot peppers, sweet peppers, tomatoes and egg plants, Taylor said.
"It is widespread from one end of the island to the next," he said.
Florida's Department of Agriculture said in a recent report that very little is known about the biology of the insect species, and there is no reported data on its natural enemies.
The bug was first spotted in Florida in May, but has not damaged agriculture fields there, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.
Insecticides are being used to combat the pest in Barbados.
"We have started a collaborative effort with scientists from the United States Department of Agriculture in trying to see what natural enemies they have," Barbadian entomologist Ian Gibbs said.
Earlier this month, authorities reported that giant African snails — often about the size of a human hand — were swarming the central parish of St. George, the island's agricultural heartland. Farmers complained of damage to sugar cane, bananas, papayas and other crops.
Volunteers sprayed government-supplied pesticides in gullies and other cool, low-lying areas where the snails are believed to breed. They are known to consume as many as 500 different plants and can transmit meningitis and other diseases through their mucous.