Cactus Moth

Asked August 22, 2014, 12:10 PM EDT

I just read an article in the Houston Chronicle Apr 24, 2011 about a moth that attacks prickly pear cactus.
The article states there is a market for this cactus, and the moth must be eliminated. I have a ranch in Edwards County that has such an abundance we are planning on using a herbacide to control. If there is a market, please advise. If not, I would like to introduce the moth to our ranch. Would this be legal?
where can I get some of these moths?
Joe Laughlin

Edwards County Texas rangelands entomology

1 Response

August 27, 2014 ESSM 3

Joe: Thanks for the inquiry concerning the cactus moth and an article you read in 2011. The cactus moth, Cactoblastis cactorum, is a native moth to southern Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay. Since 1920, the moth has been used as a biological control agent to control Central and South American prickly pear that was introduced into 53 countries in eastern hemisphere, including Australia and South Africa. Because the moth lives and eats only prickly pear species (in the genus Opuntia in the Cactaceae), this moth is listed as an invasive organism by the Federal government in the United States of America. As a listed species, it can not be imported into the United States or Texas. If the moth were imported for prickly pear control in Texas, your property and the state of Texas would come under Federal quarantine. This would mean that no products could be taken from your land or brought into your land. Your land would be visited by federal agents on a regular basis. So the answer, no, the cactus moth can not be introduced on your property. If the cactus moth does show up in Texas, a red flag will go up immediately as we have an endangered prickly pear in this state. Federal laws state that we must protect the endangered species and its habitat. Right now, the cactus moth already occurs in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina. There has also been a quarantine on the movement of prickly pear from these states to other non-infected states. Texas is the last remaining clean state before the moth would enter Mexico, a country where 2% of their GNP is from the raising, selling, eating and feeding of prickly pear pads as fodder to livestock. Our best tools of prickly pear management continue to be chemical spraying, prescribed burning and learning how to grow grass. 19 to 25 species of prickly pear are native to the state of Texas. The State Plant is prickly pear.

I have served as the coordinator of the "Texas Cactus Moth Interception and Survey Program" since 2007. The cactus moth has not been found in this state. If you would like to receive further documentation on this issue, please email me at b-rector@tamu.edu with your mailing address and I will send you some further reading on this issue or even a DVD with a program on the cactus moth prepared by the International Atomic Energy Commission. Thanks.

Barron S. Rector, Associate Professor and Extension Range Specialist

Texas A&M University AgriLife Extension Service

Ecosystem Science and Management Department


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