23 December 2019

What Will the Cattle Eat?

CTAHR tackles spittlebug infestations on Hawai‘i Island

What Will the Cattle Eat?

A recent article in Hawaii Tribune Herald noted that Mark Thorne, Extension specialist with the Department of Human Nutrition, Food & Animal Sciences, is working with the Kona livestock community to combat the two-line spittlebug (TLSB), a recently discovered pasture pest.

“Two-line spittlebugs pose a significant economic threat to the Hawai‘i livestock industry, the third-largest agricultural industry in the state, with an estimated $45,000,000 in production value,” says Mark.

Immature nymphs and adult bugs suck nutrient-rich juices from the grass leaves and roots. The grasses die, and there’s very little recovery. Nymphs are found at or just under the soil surface along grass roots or crowns within a mass of liquid and bubbles they secrete that resembles spit, hence their name.

The pest has destroyed thousands of acres of once-productive pasture land. Since 2016, their range has increased by 35,000 acres a year and now stretches 145,000 acres along the Kona coast and mauka ranch lands. Now the sustainability of Hawai‘i’s livestock industry is in question, unless measures are identified to slow their progress—not many tested management options are currently available.

Mark Thorne, Mark Wright in the Department of Plant and Environmental Protection Sciences, graduate student Shannon Wilson, and several research technicians are evaluating grass varieties bred for spittlebug resistance in Colombia, a country with several grass-specific spittlebug pests.

“We hope these grasses will be productive substitutes for the pasture grasses being wiped out by TLSB,” says Mark.

For now, ranchers are encouraged to use grazing management strategies that reduce the suitable habitat for the pest. This strategy will likely be a tool against TLSB even after suitable resistant verities of grass are planted.

If you see a spittlebug, please contact Mark Thorne at thornem@hawaii.edu. By reporting the problem, you can help scientists collect more data and advise the community on a solution.

Read the full article.

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