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Butterflies proposed as next weapon in Colombia's fight against cocaine

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 31: A Large Tiger butterfly sits on a plant during a photocall to highlight the forthcoming 'Sensational Butterflies' exhibition at the Natural History Museum on March 31, 2015 in London, England. The exhibition will run from 2nd April to 13th September and features hundreds of tropical butterflies from around the world.  (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 31: A Large Tiger butterfly sits on a plant during a photocall to highlight the forthcoming 'Sensational Butterflies' exhibition at the Natural History Museum on March 31, 2015 in London, England. The exhibition will run from 2nd April to 13th September and features hundreds of tropical butterflies from around the world. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)  (2015 Getty Images)

In its seemingly neverending battle against the drug trade, Colombia has considered employed a biological weapon to help reduce the coca crop: Butterflies.

In the aftermath of Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos announcing that he is halting use of glyphosate, a herbicide that has been a key part of U.S.-financed efforts to wipe out cocaine crop, the head of the country‚Äôs Quindio Botanical Garden, Alberto Gómez, disclosed that a pilot program has been in the works that would, if carried out, unleash hordes of Eloria Noyeri butterflies in coca growing regions in the hope that the next generation of these insect marauders would gobble up the coca leaves.

There are 157 species of coca in the world but only two are processed to make cocaine, and it just so happens that Eloria Noyeri caterpillars only eat those two varieties of the plant.

Each butterfly is able to lay over 100 eggs in a month and when the eggs hatch into very, very hungry catepillars, they gobble up every coca leaf in sight. The plan, however, has been criticized because such a concentrated release could threaten other plants as well.

Gómez said that in 2005 the government decided to hold off on the project. Colombian officials were worried that a horde the butterflies could cause some mayhem of their own, according to the Christian Science Monitor. 

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"With a plan like this, the chance for ecological mischief is very high and very dangerous," said Ricardo Vargas, director of the Colombian environmental group Andean Action, in a 2005 interview with the Associated Press.

Colombia has been struggling for decades to come up with a solution to its coca growing problem that is both effective and not harmful to people or the environment.

Santos' decision to end fumigation with glyphosate comes after a World Health Organization decision to classify the herbicide as a carcinogen.

Speaking at an event in the capital, Bogotá, Santos said that defense and health officials should agree on a transition period, during which "spraying of glyphosate has to be replaced with other mechanisms, for example, intensifying manual eradication" of coca plants.

More than 4 million acres of land in Colombia have been sprayed with the popular weed killer over the past two decades to kill the plants whose leaves produce cocaine. The spraying program is partly carried out by U.S. contractors.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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