T ropi cLine Volume 6, Number 4, July-August, 1993
Editor: Alan W. Meerow
Christine T. Stephens, Dean, Cooperative Extension
West Indian Sugarcane Borer, Metamasius hemipterus
sericeus (Coleoptera: Curculionidae) An Increasing Pest
Problem On Field Grown Ornamental Palms
Robin M. Giblin-Davis
Nematologist, Fort Lauderdale REC
Jorge E. Peia
Entomologist, Tropical REC, Homestead
The West Indian sugarcane borer, Metamasius hemipterus is an economically
important pest of sugarcane and other tropical plants in the Neotropics
(Raigosa 1974, Vaurie 1966). There are three recognized subspecies of this
weevil; M. h. hemipterus which is distributed southwards from Puerto Rico
through the Lesser Antilles and into most of South America, M. h. sericeus
which is distributed in the Greater Antilles and Central America south from
Nicaragua to western Colombia and Ecuador, and M. h. carbonarius which is
distributed from Mexico south to El Salvador and Honduras (Vaurie 1966).
Metamasius hemipterus sericeus first became established in Dade Co.,
Florida in about 1984 (Woodruff and Baranowski 1985).
The biology is apparently the same for all three subspecies. Adult weevils
are attracted to and oviposit in damaged or stressed sugarcane stalks,
banana pseudostems, ripe fruit (i.e. pineapple, mango, papaya), or palm
sheaths or stems (Vaurie 1966) where the larvae develop to adults in less
than 2 months (Woodruff and Baranowski 1985). Wolcott (1955) reported that
the female weevil oviposits in damaged sugarcane stem but that the larvae
tunnel into healthy tissue causing it to ferment.
Males of many species of weevils produce aggregation pheromones which can
be useful for monitoring the movement of pests, mass trapping, or for
timing applications of pesticides or biologicals (Weissling et al. 1993b).
Increased knowledge of the semiochemical attractants for M. h. sericeus
would be extremely useful for monitoring their movement into the
southeastern U.S.A. and in developing biorational approaches for their
management in Florida.
With funding from the Florida Nurserymen and Growers Association, we are
working to develop a safe lethal trap to field-evaluate the attraction of
semiochemicals to M. h. sericeus adults. Using this trap, we are evaluating
the attraction of different fermenting plant tissues and of conspecifics
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with and without fermenting plant tissue to M. h. sericeus adults in the
Lethal traps baited with 250 g of chopped sugarcane were used to survey
plantings of sugarcane, banana, or ornamental palms in Broward (3 sites),
Dade (10 sites), and Palm Beach (8 sites) Counties during March-September
1993. Each survey location received 2-7 traps. We worked with Broward,
Dade, and Palm Beach county extension units, personnel with the Florida
Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Division of Plant
Industry, and cooperative growers to locate active M. h. sericeus
infestations and candidate sites for survey and observation of symptoms in
Metamasius hemipterus sericeus were trapped near and in banana plantings,
sugarcane fields, and fields of ornamental palms in southern Dade County
and Pahokee and Belle Glade, Palm Beach County. In central and western
Broward County, M. h. sericeus were trapped near and in small banana
plantings and fields of ornamental palms.
We observed larval infestations of M. h. sericeus in the following palms
during 1991-1993 in Florida: 1) forty healthy (Dade Co.) and about 20
wounded (Dade and Broward Co.) 3-4-year-old, field grown spindle palms,
Hyophorbe verschaffeltii; 2) two 3-4-year-old healthy Canary Island date
palms, Phoenix canariensis in Dade Co.; 3) three healthy MacArthur palms,
Ptychosperma macarthurii in Dade Co.; 4) more than one hundred 3-4-year-old
healthy field grown Majesty palms, Ravenea rivularis in Palm Beach Co.; 5)
six 3-4-year-old healthy field grown royal palms, Roystonea regia in
Broward and Palm Beach Co.; and 6) two 3-4-year-old healthy Washington fan
palms, Washingtonia robusta in Dade Co.
Metamasius hemipterus sericeus larval tunneling appeared to start in
petioles or wounds in the petioles, crown, or stem and was extended into
healthy stem tissue. Symptoms that we observed included: 1) the appearance
of a dark amber-colored gummy exudate which issued from openings to the
surface from larval galleries in the stem and petioles of the crown region
or sometimes in the stem near or amongst exposed roots (R. regia); and 2)
open 1.0-1.5 cm diam. larval galleries in the leaves, petioles, and stem.
Signs included abandoned cocoons made of stem or petiole fibers, and/or
adult, larval, and pupal weevils at the base of petioles and in galleries
in the stem. The overall symptoms were of a lethal wilt with general
chlorosis and premature leaf death in all of the P. macarthurii, and in
several H. verschaffeltii and R. rivularis examined. Eventually, the crown
in these palms was completely destroyed by larval tunneling and collapsed.
Because the smooth, columnar trunks of H. verschaffeltii, R. rivularis, and
R. regia are an important part of their aesthetic appeal, even light damage
by M. h. sericeus is of economic importance. The W. robusta that we
examined were booted (with old petioles attached) and assymptomatic for M.
h. sericeus damage until the boots were removed near the crown revealing
typical larval weevil damage. Booted species of palms would have a higher
threshold for aesthetic damage to trunks but could suffer because high
densities of undetectable M. h. sericeus might build-up and stress or kill
the tree or provide access for pathogenic organisms. Palms that are
assymptomatic for early M. h. sericeus damage could escape early detection
and provide refuge during insecticide treatments in palm field nurseries. A
chemically-mediated lethal trap for M. h. sericeus would be extremely
useful for monitoring, mass-trapping, or pathogen delivery in such cases.
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UPDATES TO THIS ARTICLE: Update 1, Update 2
Raigosa, J. 1974. Nuevos disenos de trampas para control de plagas en cana
de azucar (Saccharum officinarum L.). Memorias II Congreso de la Sociedad
de Entomologia Colombiana, Julio 7 al 10 de 1974, Cali, Colombia. pp. 5-23.
Vaurie, P. 1966. A revision of the Neotropical genus Metamasius
(Coleoptera, Curculionidae, Rhynchophorinae). Species groups I and II.
Bull. American Mus. Nat. Hist. 131:213-337.
Weissling, T. J., R. M. Giblin-Davis, G. Gries, R. Gries, A. L. Perez, H.
D. Pierce, Jr., and A. C. Oehlschlager. 1993b. An aggregation pheromone of
the palmetto weevil, Rhynchophorus cruentatus (F.) (Coleoptera:
Curculionidae). J. Chem. Ecol. 19: (in press).
Wolcott, G. N. 1955. Entomologia economic Puertorriquena. Univ. Puerto
Rico Estac. Exp. Agr. Bull. 125: 1-208.
Woodruff, R. E., and R. M. Baranowski. 1985. Metamasius hemipterus
(Linnaeus) recently established in Florida (Coleoptera: Curculionidae).
Florida Dept. Agric. & Consumer Serv. Division of Plant Industry,
Entomology Circular No. 272. 4 pp.
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