An insect considered beneficial in many parts of the world is causing havoc on vegetable crops in South Texas, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service entomologist in Weslaco.

“We first found this insect, Nesidiocoris tenuis, commonly referred to as N. tenuis or the tomato bug, in commercial field crops in the Rio Grande Valley in October 2013,” said Dr. Raul Villanueva. “But now we’re finding it in abundant numbers on tomato crops throughout the area. It’s causing fruit drop on both tomato and sesame crops. It’s now well-established here.”

For the first time, growers are having to spray insecticides this year to control N. tenuis because of their extremely high populations, in some cases hundreds per plant.

“What’s really interesting about this insect is how it got here,” Villanueva said. “I suspect that somebody illegally brought a bottle of these insects and intentionally released them either in Mexico or the U.S.”

The tomato bug is originally from India and is commercially available in Europe to control whitefly populations in greenhouses.

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