The Prickly pear cacti (“sabras”), which are found throughout Israel, are being threatened by a cochineal scale insect that attacks the plant. Northern Israel
has been particularly hard hit by the pest, and if a solution is not found, it could spread to the rest of the country. Professor Zvi Mendel
, an entomologist from the Agricultural Research Organization Volcani Center
, is conducting groundbreaking research with the support KKL-JNF using a Mexican ladybug belonging to the genus Hyperaspis
, a natural enemy of the cochineal scale, as an agent of biological pest control to eradicate the scale and save the sabra cactus.
Professor Mendel remembers how he first discovered the pest: “A friend of mine from an Upper Galilee kibbutz phoned and described a strange ailment that was killing the sabra cactuses in his garden. I asked him to cut a few leaves and send them to me. I was most surprised to see the scale insect, which I had not known to exist in our region”.
The pest turned out to be Dactylopius opuntiae
, a cochineal scale insect that comes from Mexico. It apparently entered Israel from Lebanon about three years ago, and spread throughout the north of the country. It has already been seen in the Golan Heights, the Upper and Lower Galilee and the northern Kinneret. Infested prickly pears whiten, dry up and die. The Lebanese media have termed the phenomenon the “cotton disease”.
The presence of the scale insect is very obvious in many places in northern Israel, among them Afula. Haim Weingarten
, a gardening supervisor in the municipality said: “We had prickly pears that were more than 50 years old, extending along a kilometer. None of them are left. Spraying was ineffective and we were forced to cut down the plants, seal them in bags and burn them, to prevent the scale from spreading. In all my many years as a gardener I have never seen anything like this”.
Not far from Afula, in the Arab village of Dehi, prickly pears also became infested. The cochineal scale does not discriminate between religions or cultures, and fighting it will require cooperation between all the residents of northern Israel. In Kibbutz Lehavot HaBashan in the Upper Galilee, a row of prickly pears that were planted as a hedge around a pomegranate grove, were infested with the scale and died.
“As a leading environmental organization, KKL-JNF invests heavily in research and development
,” notes Chief Forester David Brand
from the KKL-JNF Forestry
Division. “We support some 70 applied research projects yearly, which provide us with the best methods to manage ecosystems. This knowledge keeps KKL-JNF at the forefront of science and technology and also allows us to provide aid to other countries, which face similar challenges”.