Limon­i­cus lucky dip

Matamata Chronicle - - News - By IRIS RID­DELL

Two months ago Tineke de Jong made a fas­ci­nat­ing dis­cov­ery in the green­house – a tiny white mite, fast-mov­ing and nearly trans­par­ent.

She and hus­band Frans, own­ers of South­ern Belle Or­chard in Mata­mata, sent a sam­ple to Zonda, the coun­try’s lead­ing spe­cial­ists in bi­o­log­i­cal pest con­trol, to see what they had found.

‘‘From ex­pe­ri­ence, we know that fast-run­ning mites are hunters, look­ing for eggs or ju­ve­niles or what­ever it is they’re af­ter,’’ Mr de Jong said.

The re­sults came back with a name for their mys­te­ri­ous mite – am­bly­dro­ma­lus limon­i­cus, a vig­or­ous preda­tor found through­out New Zealand.

‘‘It will prey on potato-tomato psyl­lids, thrips, white­fly and can also sur­vive on pollen if it needs to.’’

Mr de Jong, whose busi­ness sup­plies su­per­mar­kets, restau­rants and farm­ers’ mar­kets, said the mite had made a huge dif­fer­ence to the num­ber of pests in their 1500 sqm green­house.

‘‘Us­ing nat­u­ral preda­tors to con­trol pests is a big part of what we do. We use a mite for thrips and sticky traps and par­a­sitic wasps for aphids.

‘‘That we got limon­i­cus here is a lucky dip, it must have come in some­how.’’

Zonda en­to­mol­o­gist Ter­ril Marais said limon­i­cus had mas­sive po­ten­tial as a form of bi­o­log­i­cal con­trol and could save the in­dus­try mil­lions, ex­cept for one prob­lem.

‘‘ They’re very hard to rear be­cause they’re can­ni­bal­is­tic. That can hap­pen when you’re try­ing to raise preda­tors in a con­fined area.

‘‘The de­vel­op­ment of a fi­nan­cially vi­able rear­ing sys­tem is go­ing to be the make-or-break of them.’’

She said that al­though lit­tle re­search had been car­ried out on the mite in New Zealand, Kop­pert Bi­o­log­i­cal Sys­tems in Hol­land had been work­ing on it for 20 years and had just re­leased it to the pub­lic as a form of bio­con­trol un­der the brand name Li­mon­ica.

‘‘They’ve ob­vi­ously cracked it some­how, which is very ex­cit­ing over there.

‘‘It would be nice if the in­dus­try could get be­hind it and fund a masters or PHD stu­dent or some­thing. That’s def­i­nitely on our wish­list be­cause it would be great for New Zealand’s in­dus­try.’’

New Zealand was some­thing of a col­lect­ing ground for ben­e­fi­cial mites, Ms Marais said.

‘‘I know Canadian sci­en­tists came out at some stage to col­lect some preda­tory mites to rein­vig- orate their colonies, and the food mite used in Hol­land to rear other preda­tors is from here.

‘‘The orig­i­nal stock of limon­i­cus Kop­pert used were from here, too.

‘‘ So they do like to keep an eye on us and we do find some ex­cit­ing things from time to time but no­body here tends to have the money to do any­thing with it.’’

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