Critters cooperate with cactus control

Natural Resources Office Corey Yeates stands amongst a large Opuntia cactus infestation while distributing biocontrol. Photo: Supplied.
Natural Resources Office Corey Yeates stands amongst a large Opuntia cactus infestation while distributing biocontrol. Photo: Supplied.

Thousands of insects have been released across the Eastern Eyre Peninsula in an effort to control the spread of invasive cacti across the region.

Opuntia plants including the common prickly pear and wheel cactus are introduced species and compete with native vegetation.

They have also been known to provide a safe place for pests to hide and grow thickets which can limit access to water and food sources for livestock and native animals.

The insects go to work. Photo: Supplied.

The insects go to work. Photo: Supplied.

National Resources officers have released Cochineal scale insects at seven cactus outbreak sites near Cleve, Cowell and Kimba with the Birdseye Highway between Cleve and Cowell a major focus.

The release is part of the EP Natural Resources Management Board's targeted biological control program with the Indian fig the primary focus.

Officer Rebekah Davenport said using the insects as biological control provided a long term solution to reduce Opuntia cacti populations in the region, with the insects able to suck nutrients and moisture from the plants, dehydrating and killing them.

Natural Resource Officer Rebekah Davenport uses tongs and gloves to avoid Opuntia cactus spines, while placing infected pads close to live ones so insects can transfer over. Photo: Supplied.

Natural Resource Officer Rebekah Davenport uses tongs and gloves to avoid Opuntia cactus spines, while placing infected pads close to live ones so insects can transfer over. Photo: Supplied.

"We are hoping that the Cochineal will establish well on these Opuntia populations and provide a source that can be transported to other problem sites across Eastern Eyre communities and beyond on both public and private lands," Ms Davenport said.

"Using biological control is a slower process than chemically treating the plants but can have a much greater reach."

Ms Davenport said the Cochineal insects specialised in feeding on certain species of Opuntia and posed no threat to other plants.