This year’s cold winter temperatures helped to wipe out fall vegetable plants like peppers and eggplants that host the weevils. However, weevils can hitchhike on peppers that the U.S. imports from Mexico and infect Georgia’s pepper fields. Seventy percent of the winter peppers imported into the U.S. are grown in Mexico, where pepper weevils originate.
“When the peppers are cut open and the seed cavity is cleaned out into the trash bin, you might put live weevils into the trash bin that could eventually get out and infest new fields of peppers,” Riley said. “If you bring infested fruit to a new field and discard it, you can start a new infestation in that field.”
Riley stresses that even a small percentage of weevil-infested fruit can lead to an infestation.
He and fellow UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences entomologist Stormy Sparks are raising awareness in producers and agricultural workers who may inadvertently bring weevils into fields.
According to Riley, hot peppers are the most vulnerable.
“In the field, the weevil’s impact can be devastating. It’s like the boll weevil was to cotton. The pepper weevil comes in the field and starts laying eggs. If it’s early in the season, they’ll cause the blooms to drop,” Riley said. “The pepper plant’s defense is to shed fruit, just like the cotton plants started shedding bolls. If it’s a heavy infestation, you can get 90 percent yield loss. It will just wipe out a field.”
Managing pepper weevils is difficult because pyrethroid pesticides are no longer effective. The weevil has built up a resistance to the pesticides and, once inside the fruit, they are not affected by insecticides.