04 August 1997
Colorado beetle threat "contained"

By Boyd Champness

AUTHORITIES believe they have contained a potential Colorado beetle outbreak.

A number of beetles were discovered on board a Greek-registered lorry at the port of Harwich, Essex, over the weekend. A spokesman for Harwich International Port said the lorry had been driven up from Piraeus in Greece with a consignment of fresh produce for a Greek cruiser, which was docked at the port awaiting supplies.

He said the beetles were identified immediately “once the lorry was opened up.” The produce has been impounded and inspectors from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) are expected to fumigate it tomorrow.

Potato plants are particularly susceptible to attack from Colorado beetles – which is all the industry needs as potato farmers battle one their worst blight years in memory.

National Farmers Federation East Anglia spokesman Mike Hollingsworth said an outbreak of Colorado beetles had the potential to “decimate” potato crops across the country.

Mr Hollingsworth urged farmers and gardeners to keep an eye out for the beetles, saying a colony could easily be established by a single female escaping detention.

The adult beetle is very distinctive. It is about 10mm long, with 10 alternate black and yellow stripes running down its back, and in shape resembles an overgrown ladybird.

Potato growers and gardeners are urged to check their crops for larvae of the Colorado beetle. These are between three and 10mm long with black heads. Their bodies are initially pinkish red with black markings becoming orange and then pale orange as they grow. They are freely mobile and feed on potato foliage, or on solanaceous weeds, eating from the leaf margins and leaving oily black excreta.

Colorado beetle larvae should not be mistaken for the pupae of the ladybird, which are similar in shape and colour but are immobile.

MAFF urges anyone who finds what they think to be a Colorado beetle or its larva, dead or alive, to place it in a sealed container and contact their local MAFF office or alternatively drop it off at the nearest police station.