NYC Unleashes Insects to Take on Mile-a-Minute Vines

New York, NY (August 20, 2013) – New York City will unleash about 5,000 Asian weevils in two places each in the Bronx and Queens as well as one location on Staten Island. The insects are part of a broad strategy to attack the mile-a-minute vine, which is threatening native plants and trees. The very small beetles, known as Rhinoncomimus latipes, feed on the vines, which have overrun local parks and natural urban forested areas.

mile-a-minute vinesThe vines were first spotted in Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx in 2006. In 2007, the department received a grant from the State Department of Environmental Conservation to eradicate mile-a-minute from Pelham Bay Park. That campaign included the limited use of herbicides but chiefly involved teams of volunteers spending thousands of hours weeding out the vines, but those efforts have not proven sufficient.

Mile-a-minute vine is native to Asia, but it is believed that at some point in the 1930s, its seeds contaminated a shipment of holly seeds in Japan. The vine has triangular leaves and can grow up to 20 feet in a single growing season, creeping up and over nearby plants and trees. Under ideal conditions, a single plant can produce thousands of seeds, which can germinate in the soil for up to six years after falling to the ground.

If nothing is done to curb the vine’s spread, native plants like aster, goldenrod and pokeweed stand little chance of survival, she said. The vine can suppress saplings’ growth and even lead to the death of mature trees.

Department of Agriculture research has shown that the weevil’s entire life cycle — from egg to larva, pupa and adult — was solely dependent on mile-a-minute. In 2004, the Department of Agriculture granted permission for the use of R. latipes as a biological control.

The weevils destined for New York were bred at the Phillip Alampi Beneficial Insect Rearing Laboratory in West Trenton, N.J., part of the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. Since 2004, the lab has sent more than 500,000 weevils to 11 states, including New York. According to an entomologist at the lab, while the weevils have substantially reduced mile-a-minute at many original release sites, it will never be eradicated.

Source: “Urgent Task for Insect: Stop a Relentless Vine,” The New York Times