In early August, 2014, 200 air potato leaf beetles were intentionally released in Mead Garden in an effort to combat the invasive air potato vine.
Air potato (Dioscorea bulbifera) is considered one of Florida’s most invasive exotic species due to its aggressive growth habit. It is an herbaceous, perennial twining vine that can grow up 8 inches per day and to over 70 feet in length. Its leaves are broad and heart-shaped, and it produces many potato-like tubers from which new vines grow.
Air potato is known to alter plant communities by displacing, smothering and killing native species, changing community structure, and disrupting ecological functions.
Its native range includes much of Asia and Africa. It was introduced to Florida in 1905 as a potential food crop, however, the wild form of the plant is toxic and should not be consumed.
How do we control air potato? Air potato leaf beetles!
Air potato leaf beetles (Lilioceris cheni) are native to Asia. They were first released in Florida in 2012 for biological control of air potato.
Both larvae and adults will consume leaf tissue, which negatively affects plant growth and reproduction, and will occasionally feed on the vine’s growing tips, which inhibits vine elongation and may reduce the ability of air potato to climb vertical structures.
The air potato leaf beetle is only known to feed on Dioscorea bulbifera in its native range and has not been shown to feed on any other plant found in Florida. The beetles also don’t bite.
Air potato leaf
Air potato tuber
Air potato leaf beetle
Beetles at work
The air potato leaf beetle is being released in Florida through a partnership of the United States Department of Agriculture, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the University of Florida.
To learn more about the air potato leaf beetle release program, and to request air potato beetles for your property, visit bcrcl.ifas.ufl.edu/airpotatobiologicalcontrol.shtml.
“Air potato leaf beetle” and “Beetles at work” photos courtesy of Rodrigo Diaz, University of Florida.