Sugarcane Weevil in Brazil

Sphenophorus levis (sugarcane weevil) | Conchal, Brazil.

Brazil is one of the world’s top producers of sugarcane, and they have the Middle East to thank for it.  While the U.S. was responding to the 1973 OPEC oil embargo by building bigger and bigger SUVs, Brazil aggressively developed an alternative fuels industry based on sugarcane for ethanol production.  Today, about half of Brazil’s sugarcane is milled for ethanol, yet despite this enough raw sugar is produced from the remaining sugarcane crop to rival India as the world’s top producer.

The large acreage devoted to sugarcane and tropical climate in which it is grown make Brazil’s crop especially vulnerable to infestation by insect pests—and there are many!  One of the most important is Sphenophorus levis (sugarcane weevil, or “bicudo da cana-de-açúcar”).  Larvae bore in the roots and crown of the plant, reducing biomass accumulation and longevity.  This feature of the insect’s biology also makes the larvae extraordinarily difficult to control, since they are largely protected from chemical applications by surrounding plant tissues.  This adult beetle was captured in a field trap placed in a sugarcane field in Conchal, approximately 175 km N of São Paulo.  The traps consist of split sugarcane stalks buried under debris within crop rows—adults are attracted to the cut surface of the stalks, where they congregate in numbers.  Traps are used not only to monitor beetle occurrence and abundance in fields, but also to provide a source of insects for laboratory rearing and evaluation of control test agents.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011