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New moth threat for Texan prickly pear cactus

Texan plants our now in danger of being hit by a devastating invasive moth that is going for the state’s ubiquitous prickly pear cactus. The South American cactus moth has already laid waste to the cactus population in Florida, having come ashore there roughly 30 years ago. Now field biologists with the University of Texas have spotted it in South Texas and are rushing to bring the moth under control.

The westward migration of the moth has alarmed Mexican biologists, partnering with their Texas counterparts. More so than in the US, south of the border, the prickly pear is a key species for human consumption and agricultural production.

The moth, named Cactoblastis cactorum, is “out of the box in Texas,” UT integrative biology professor Larry Gilbert reported Feb. 20 after he and a graduate student discovered a moth infestation in December among prickly pear cactuses at the Mad Island Wildlife Management Area, on the Gulf Coast. And in February, the cactus month was detected in Columbus, about 90 miles southeast of Austin.

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