In an attempt to thwart parasites infecting sabra shrubs in the North, researchers are enlisting the help of predatory ladybugs.

Teams from Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund and the Agriculture Ministry’s Volcani Center have identified the culprit – which is attacking the shrubs in the Hula Valley – as an insect called the Etzbarit.

The name is derived from the “prickly pear” plant on which it preys.

Known scientifically as Dactylopius opuntiae, the Etzbarit is known globally for its destructive behavior, and the researchers decided immediate action was necessary to curb its spread, according to the two institutions.

“The sabra bush was imported to Israel some 200 years ago and became an identification mark not only of the Israeli terrain, but as an icon of our Israeli character,” a statement from KKL-JNF said.

The researchers and foresters involved have therefore released among the sabras 150,000 predatory ladybugs – of the Cryptolaemus montrouzieri species – which were raised in the BioBee Biological Systems laboratories at Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu, near Beit She’an.

This species of ladybug was acclimatized to Israel decades ago in order to curb aphid populations, the organizations explained. Experiments at Sde Eliyahu indicated that the use of the beetles for the current purpose would be effective as well, they added.

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