The pesky tomato pest, Tuta absoluta, has decided in recent years that it wants to see a little more of the world. This moth is native to Peru and is probably widespread in all countries in South America, but in the last 5 years the pest has also been found in the Mediterranean, spreading at a rapid pace. T. absoluta seems to have found the Mediterranean a perfect new home where it can breed 10-12 generations per year and each female can lay 250-300 eggs in its lifetime. The pest is crossing boarders and devastating tomato production in both protected and open fields. Just in 2010 the Reporting Service from the European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organisation (EPPO) reported first records in Bulgaria, Cyprus, Germany, Israel, Hungary, Kosovo, Guernsey and Turkey and in 2011 in Greece, Lithuania and Iraq. The Tuta absoluta information network also reports the pest in Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Sudan and most recently in glasshouses in Russia, although these reports have not been confirmed officially by NPPOs.
T. absoluta larvae feed almost exclusively on tomato (Solanum lycopersicum), although there are references to other hosts in the family Solanaceae such as potato, aubergine and pepino. The pest has been the cause of losses of 50-100% in tomato plantations, mainly when it does not rain often and it attacks all phases of the crop from the seedling stage through to post-harvest.
T. absoluta is a very challenging pest to control. Although still the most common method in South American countries, chemical control effectiveness is limited due to the insect’s rapid ability to develop insecticide resistant strains. The use of natural enemies, such as entomopathogenic nematodes, for biological control is still largely under development and not ready to combat this pest effectively and in a cost effective way. One of the more effective methods of control is the use of pheromones: sex pheromone traps are useful as an early detection tool, then mass trapping and “lure and kill” application of pheromones has been found to be effective to control the pest population.
Last month CABI published a new edition of the distribution map for T. absoluta in our series Distribution Maps of Plant Pests (DMPP) (published in association with EPPO) after the 2009 edition was deemed outdated already due to all the new reports mentioned above. Compare the 2011 edition with the 2009 edition below to see the striking expansion in distribution. DMPP subscribers can view the full map pdfs, including supporting references, at www.cabi.org/dmpp.
To keep up with this pest and its distribution visit the following sites:
- Plantwise: www.plantwise.org
- Distribution Maps of Plant Pests: www.cabi.org/dmpp
- Crop Protection Compendium: www.cabi.org/cpc
- Tuta absoluta Information Network: www.tutaabsoluta.com
- EPPO Reporting Service: http://archives.eppo.org/EPPOReporting/Reporting_Archives.htm