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New maggot bugging rice fields
A type of maggot that devastated some late-planted rice fields in Louisiana and Texas last year is a bug new to the United States, the Smithsonian Institution has confirmed.

It's so new that it doesn't yet have a common U.S. name — something that the Entomological Society of America will have to approve, said Dr. Boris Castro, an entomologist at the LSU AgCenter.

Last year, the maggots attacked fields in several Louisiana parishes, Castro said.

Dr. Mo Way, Texas A&M entomologist, has found it in Texas on a smaller scale.

Smithsonian entomologist Wayne Mathis identified it as the larva of a tiny fly known to scientists as Hydrellia wirthi and found in Peru, Costa Rica and Colombia, Castro said.

"We've suggested the name of South American rice miner," he said, since it is known in South America as "the miner of rice."

The society is also making scientific drawings of the insect to help farmers recognize it.

More information is needed, such as where the fly spends winters, how many eggs it lays each year and how far north it can survive, AgCenter experts said.

Scientists and farmers also need to determine the early signs of infestation. By the time the plant's leaves die, it's too late to use any chemicals.

Although the insect is known in South America, the move north may have changed its habits, Castro said.

"They may behave completely different from those in South America."

Scientists do know one thing: The fly seems to have struck mostly in June and July, with the first maggots found in a field planted in May.

"The earlier you plant, the better," Castro said.

Farmer Ted Girouard of Kaplan said the fly wiped out 51 acres of rice planted in July. His remaining 130 acres yielded only 12 barrels an acre, he said.

The LSU AgCenter recommends planting rice between March 15 and April 20 in south Louisiana and between April 5 and May 10 in the north.

Castro said the U.S. Department of Agriculture's New Pest Advisory Group is preparing a report and has scheduled surveys to look for the pest in all rice-producing parts of the country. That information will indicate what areas are most at risk and where it is likely to spread.

Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas are the main U.S. rice-growing states.
MGR Archive 13.4.2005
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