One hundred and fifty thousand predatory ladybugs are now being released into nature straight to the thorny hedges of afflicted sabras. Dr. David Brand, Director of the KKL-JNF Forestry Department, said that "over time, we have reason to hope that the ladybugs will halt this phenomenon."
The sabra bush, which was brought to Israel about two hundred years ago, became a definitive landmark of the Israeli landscape and also an icon for "Israeli-ness" in general. Sabras infected by a pest causing them to die were recently observed in the Hula Valley
. The Volcani Center and KKL-JNF scientists identified the pest, Dactylopius opuntiae which is commonly referred to as the cochineal. In Hebrew, it is known as the etzbarit. The etzbarit is known to be an aggressive species that has been used in the past to eliminate species of prickly pear in South Africa and in Australia.
In the process of introducing the specific natural enemies of the etzbarit and monitoring their acclimatization in Israel, a predatory ladybug was selected, Cryptolaemus montrouzieri, which was already acclimated in Israel decades ago, for restraining the aphid populations. In laboratory experiments conducted with the Sde Eliyahu BioBee Biological Systems, it was found that this beetle is an efficient means to this end.
In an emergency operation performed by Volcani Center scientists and KKL-JNF foresters, 150,000 beetles produced at BioBee have been released for this purpose onto sabra bushes in centers of infestation in northern Israel.
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