Air Potato Leaf Beetles Available to Florida Residents
You may recognize the long twining vines and glossy heart-shaped leaves of the exotic air potato vine,but would you recognize its greatest enemy in Florida? Air potato leaf beetles are small red beetles with a black head (see photo on right).
This petite insect’s larvae turn those large glossy leaves into lacy, hole-filled, skeletonized leaves which significantly reduces the vine’s natural ability to overtake a yard, park, or entire natural area (see photo below, left).
History of the Air Potato Issue
For years residents and park managers battled with air potato (Dioscorea bulbifera) as it aggressively covered our landscape. You see, air potato grows prolifically here because it’s not from our neck of the woods and as a result, our ecosystem lacks air potato’s natural predators.
After extensive research on its safety and impact, the air potato leaf beetle was approved for release in Florida. This beetle helps control the air potato vine population by eating its leaves and stunting its growth.
In 2012, the U.S.D.A., the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and UF/IFAS began releasing air potato leaf beetles throughout the state to combat the exotic invasive vine. To learn more about the air potato leaf beetle, see the UF/IFAS Entomology and Nematology Department’s “Featured Creatures” page, here: http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/BENEFICIAL/BEETLES/air_potato_leaf_beetle.htm