Dr. Richards is not the only one rearing the fireweed moth. A rearing and release program has been developed in collaboration between ranchers, HDOA, and the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. The program’s goal is to release large quantities of caterpillars and moths to help control fireweed.
“We appreciate the dedication and diligence it took to find and research this new biological ally in battling fireweed,” said Dr. Mark Thorne, rangeland specialist with the University of Hawaii. “The University of Hawaii’s Kamuela Cooperative Extension Office and the Mealani Experiment Station is also happy to contribute by providing space and technical support for the rearing and release of the moth.”
It is believed that fireweed came to the islands in hydromulch material imported from Australia. The state approved the release of the moth in 2010, but also required approval of a federal permit, which was finalized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Dec. 6, 2012.
HDOA’s exploratory entomologist, Dr. Mohsen Ramadan, traveled to Australia, South Africa and Madagascar in 1999 and returned with 14 insects and one fungus, which were researched and tested under quarantine conditions. Some were found to be ineffective, while others were found to harm other native or beneficial plants. Dr. Ramadan traveled to the region again in 2005, 2007, 2011 and 2012 to look for more potential biocontrols for fireweed and other pests, such as coffee berry borer, small hive beetle and the protea mealybug. HDOA is also testing four other potential natural enemies of fireweed, each which appear to attack different parts of the plant.