Biological control of black-headed caterpillar demonstrated

Central Plantation Crops Research Institute (CPCRI), Kasargod, in association with Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) and Horticulture Department, has been creating awareness among growers on the biological control measure of black-headed caterpillar (Opisina arenosella), which feeds on coconut leaves. The pest menace leads to the leaves drying and the coconut trees collapsing and dying.

An awareness programme was conducted by CPCRI, KVK and the Horticulture Department at the affected coconut gardens in Kallapu near Thokkottu. According to a survey conducted by the organisations, 2000 coconut trees have been infested in Thokkottu and Ullal regions. Cases have also been found in Manchi and Mudipu of Bantwal. An action plan was prepared to control the menace, including organising awareness programmes and demonstrations. CPCRI has also developed techniques to multiply the parasitoids in its laboratories.

CPCRI director Dr P Chowdappa and Horticulture Department Deputy Director Yogesh said the larvae of the black headed caterpillars extensively feed on the chlorophyll of coconut leaves, leaving behind the galleries with fecal matter. Complete drying of leaves are observed in this stage.The affected trees can be recognised easily as the leaves look burnt from a distance. As the number of pests shoots up during summer and dry weather, there is a chance of further spread of this pest if proper management strategies are not implemented at this stage, he added.

The biocontrol of the leaf-eating caterpillar is done by releasing the parasitoids Goniozus nephantidis or Bracon brevicornis once in a fortnight till the menace is cleared. The release rate of the parasitoids is around 20. The parasites should be released near the stem of the tree. The parasites will climb the tree, bite the caterpillars and lay eggs on the worm, he said.

Biomanagement of coconut black headed caterpillar has been successfully done in Arsikere in Hassan district where about six hectares of a coconut farm was infested. Complete recovery of palms was achieved in a period of 15 months by January 2015 and no further pest incidence was noticed till April 2016, Dr Chowdappa said.

An interaction programme was held with farmers. The farmers whose coconut plantations have been infested may contact CPCRI or Krishi Vigyan Kendra. The scientists will release the parasitoids to the trees free of cost, Dr Chowdappa said. Those interested can contact CPCRI, Kasargod at 04994-232893 or Dr Harish, scientist, Horticulture Department at 9036893214.
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