Cactus moth could devastate Texas’ native prickly pear cacti, UT researchers say

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — An invasive insect with a wingspan of only an inch or so has the potential to wreak havoc on Texas’ native prickly pear cacti.

Researchers with the University of Texas at Austin say the cactus moth will eat four types of prickly pear cacti native to the state, which could cause “largescale agricultural and ecological devastation.”

In a study, researchers looked at the four species, including one that’s used for nopales in Latin-American cuisine. They found they were not much different nutritionally across cacti species, and the moth was able to power through the natural, built-in defenses of the plants, UT said.

This could not only affect prickly pear cacti themselves but also animals that depend on cacti for food and habitat.

The cactus moth came from the Caribbean to Florida about 30 years ago, according to researchers. After the moths started heading toward Texas, UT’s Invasive Species Research Team prepared by studying the moth’s natural enemies.

The cactus moths arrived in Texas in 2017, researchers said. The Texas Gulf Coast experienced infestations.

Right now, it is believed there are no natural predators in Texas to control the cactus moth population, UT said. The U.S. Department of Agriculture have studied South American parasitic wasps that attack cactus moths as a way to control moth populations. But the study did present sufficient research due to cactus moths degrading Florida’s cactus wildlife before field trials began.

UT researchers are working to find out “the likelihood of the moth continuing to expand its range throughout the state and into Mexico.” You can read more about the study online.

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