The Washington Times-Herald

June 10, 2014

Ever hear of a sharpshooter? This one's an insect

The Washington Times-Herald

---- — If you are not an entomologist or fruit grower in Hawaii, California, Tahiti, or its native habitat in Mexico, this is one insect you have probably never heard about. It has a very strange name and is a major pest where it has now become invasive. This is the glassy-winged sharpshooter.

A rather large member of the left-hopper family, the sharpshooter can cause considerable damage in fruit crops such as grapes, almonds, different citrus plants and stone fruit. It attacks the fruit by sticking its very sharp, sucking feeding tube into a nice, ripe fruit and sucks just enough liquid out of the tasty dish to ruin it for sale in some market.

As if ruining the fruit for market was not bad enough, the sharpshooter also has a very nasty habit that is most disgusting. As the glassy-wing sucks the juice from the fruit, it ejects waste fluid out of its rear end. These droplets are foul smelling and are known as “leafhopper rain.” Anything under a fruit tree that has an infestation of this leaf-hopper will soon be covered with a coat of sticky evil smelling you know what.

In its native country of Mexico the glassy-winged sharpshooter is not the major problem that it is in the area it has now invaded. This is probably because there are natural control factors in Mexico that are not found in California, Hawaii or Tahiti where it is now invasive.

To try to control this insect in its new homes, a specific virus that only is deadly to leafhoppers is now being used to try and control this out of control pest. In addition to the virus, a variety of little insects known as a parasitic fairyfly that attacks the eggs of the sharpshooter has also been found to be somewhat effective as a control measure.

The name sharpshooter is derived from the force of vile fluid being expelled from the leafhopper. It can travel several inches from a feeding insect.

In addition to ruining the fruit it feeds upon, the shooter also alters the water and nitrogen balance in the tree being attacked. This makes the fruit tree more susceptible to a disease that can kill the tree.

In California is a very lethal plant bacteria known as Xylella fastidosa that is deadly to grapes. If you have ever been to California you well know there are a lot of grapes there and it is a $5 billion business, so any threat to its grape plants can have a major impact.

The young of the glassy-winged sharpshooter, known as nymphs, have been found to harbor this bacteria, and it is feared the adult will pass it on to the grape plants.

No one is sure how the first sharpshooter reached California, but man as usual is believed to be the culprit. We do know this insect that reached Hawaii and France’s Society Polynesian Islands where Tahiti is located did arrive by airplane. The insects have been found on many planes that originated in either California or Mexico. They have been found in airports not only in Hawaii and Tahiti, but also in France, New Zealand and Australia. With rapid air travel the spread of alien species is now a threat all over the globe.

The first sharpshooter was discovered in Tahiti in 1999. It found the warm tropical island to its liking and is now found in large numbers on most of the Society Islands and will probably spread to other ocean islands.

The glassy-winged was first found in Hawaii in 2004 and has already become a costly pest. It has now recently reached the remote Easter Island. Who knows where it will appear next. Humans love to travel by air and it is now very apparent so do a lot of alien creatures that can cause us lots of trouble.