A Vine Pest Has Been Found in Switzerland, Raising the Alarm

The rapacious Japanese beetle, first spotted in Europe in 2014, has made it to the German border, close to a major winegrowing region.

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Popillia japonica, a rapacious Japanese beetle invading Central Europe (Photo: Kerry Hargrove/stock.adobe.com)
Popillia japonica, a rapacious Japanese beetle invading Central Europe (Photo: Kerry Hargrove/stock.adobe.com)

The invasive Japanese beetle has been found on the border of the German wine-growing region of Baden-Württemberg, and officials are taking every measure to stop its progress.

Baited traps have caught 38 of the beetles in nearby Basel, Switzerland, according to current affairs program Tagesschau. Previously, beetles were only found one at a time, suggesting they were individual stowaways; 38 at once indicates a colony.

Swiss authorities have created a one-kilometre “infestation zone” around the municipal nursery where the beetles were caught, which will be carefully monitored.

"The primary goal is to stop the spread of the pest," said representatives of the cantonal plant protection service and the Basel-Stadt municipal nursery.

Traps are also being set up within a five-kilometre radius, and locals are now forbidden from taking green material, compost, or soil from the buffer zone.

Why the beetle is so worrying

The beetle feasts on a wide variety of plants, from grasses to stone fruits, apples, corn and roses, making it highly destructive. It will also eat its way through vineyards. Female beetles can produce up to 300 eggs a year, which develop in the soil, making them hard to detect.

The US spends at least $460 million a year trying to manage the pest — an amount that’s probably a drastic under-estimate, given the last official figures date from 2015. The EU has classified the Japanese beetle as the second most important quarantine pest for crops.

The Japanese beetle was first seen in northern Italy in 2014, and by 2017 had spread to the southern border of Switzerland.

“The potential yield damage to six main host crops of the beetle ranges from €30 million to €7.8 billion per year,” according to popillia.eu, a site dedicated to news about the beetle. “Large grape and wine producing countries like France or Italy would be affected with potential annual damage costs of around €92 million and €62 million, respectively.”

The site also says that the beetle “threatens the entire agricultural sector, urban landscapes, and biodiversity in invaded areas”.


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Baden-Württemberg on alert

There are two main wine regions in the state: the Baden vineyards along the eastern bank of the Rhine. The climate is similar to Alsace, Champagne, and the Loire. Württemberg, farther east, specialises in red wines.

The Swiss are now liaising with the Augustenberg Agricultural Technology Center (LTZ) in the city of Karlsruhe. “The top priority of the official plant protection service in Baden-Württemberg is to prevent the establishment of the Japanese beetle at all costs,” a representative told Tagesschau.

The beetle, Popillia japonica, is not considered a pest in its native Japan.



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