Common name: air potato leaf beetle (suggested common name)
scientific name: Lilioceris cheni Gressitt and Kimoto (Insecta:
Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae: Criocerinae)
In the first paragraph you have been formally introduced to the air potato leaf beetles and their proper names. I was privileged enough to personally meet some air potato leaf beetles, whom I shall call John, Paul, George and Ringo. Okay, well, I met more than four of them, but we’ll just repeat those four names for simplification purposes.
John, Paul, George and Ringo and their friends came to me via the County Extension office in a yellow submarine. No wait, it was a plastic container with a nice screen on the top. They had spent a few days in the dark, experiencing the US Postal System. By the time I met them, they were adjusting to the daylight, and busily munching on some air potato leaves in the container."It's been a hard day's night," they told me.
County Extension Horticulture Agent, Bill Lester explained to me that beetles were released in June, in four locations around the Chinsegut Manor House in Lake Lindsey, in northern Hernando County. In approximately four months, he has gotten reports of air potato leaf damage in all areas of the county.
My mission was to take the beetles to Masaryktown, at the central, southern edge of the county, to help assure widespread county coverage."Baby, you can drive my car." I suggested, but they wanted me to drive. Upon release, John, Paul, George and Ringo and their friends were a little slow to come out of their container with its built in salad bar. Eventually, they were all coaxed to explore their new world. I was a bit disappointed as a transportation facilitator, because there was evidence that other Johns, Pauls, Georges and Ringos had already invaded this territory. No screaming teenage girls met my beetles as they left the container. They were merely supporting acts, not the original stars. Yet there was still plenty of air potato around for them to start their own show. They will get by. (With a little help from their friends.)
I have included photos of the red beetles and the leaf damage they cause. They start with munching little holes all through the leaves. Pick one up and you'll think, "I'm looking through you." Eventually they skeletonize the leaves all together. No leaves equals no photosynthesis and this will really put a hurting on the invasive vine that has taken over many areas of Florida.
Take a walk in your neighborhood. Check out the air potato. See if the beetles have taken up residence yet. If you see air potato beetle activity, you know exactly what to do. That's right. Let it be.
Not sure what air potato is? Here is a link from the Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants at UF: http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/node/133.
If you are interested in obtaining some beetles for your area, call Bill Lester at the Extension Office at 352-754-4433.