The cochineal scale insect – a pest whose origin is in Mexico, entered Israel from Lebanon about three years ago, and since then has been spreading in the north. The concern is that this pest will also spread to the rest of the country and threaten all the sabra cactuses in Israel. Attempts to use various pesticides were not successful, and now the Mexican ladybugs
are the last hope.
It is not by chance that the Mexican ladybugs might be the hero who will save the day. Despite the fact that the sabra cactus originated in Mexico, its fruit is seen as characterizing the Israeli personality – prickly on the outside but sweet within. KKL-JNF contacted its representatives in Mexico and got in touch with local experts. A number of alternatives were looked into, and the conclusion was to experiment with take the Mexican ladybug, which is of the genus Hyperaspis
Towards the end of September, a few dozen ladybugs were brought to Israel after all the necessary permits were obtained. Dr. Alex Protsov
from the Volcani Institute described the process: “The ladybugs were quarantined for a number of months in order to ascertain that they will only affect the scales rather than other species that exist in Israel. At the same time, we propagated them in order to have a sufficient quantity to disperse.”
The tests showed that the ladybugs only ate scales and nothing else, not even hummus or falafel. The new immigrants acclimated quickly into life in Israel, and today, the scientists have about 300 adult ladybugs and another 150 larva who will grow up to be hungry adult bugs.
At the present time, teams are going from village to village in the north and looking for places to disperse the ladybugs. This is how they arrived, for example, at Ronnie Vetner
’s yard in Korazim. A big and impressive sabra cactus had been growing there for years, until it was attacked by the merciless scale. The magnificent plant is now drying up and dying.
Professor Tzvi Mandel
inspected the plant, and sadly arrived at the conclusion that it was too late to save it. “There are too many scales, and by the time the ladybugs will multiply here the sabra will have already died.”
“This was a beautiful plant, we picked buckets full of sabras from it,” Vetner remembered better days. “It’s painful to see it die right in front of my eyes. It’s a shame that the ladybugs only arrived when it was too late, but at least they will save the other sabras in the village, and I can always plant a new one.”