Pear harvests in Britain may be in danger from an invasive European weevil which has been spotted for the first time at an orchard in Kent.
The tiny pest, called Anthonomus spilotus is known to damage pear crops in continental Europe.
But scientists at the Natural History Museum realised it had spread to the UK after a farmer from Maidstone in Kent sent in a bug to its identification team, in London.
Like most weevils, the beetles have a long ‘nose’ or rostrum which they use to bore into plants. It attacks the leaf buds of pear trees early in the spring, reducing the number of fruit produced per tree.
The origins of the weevil are unknown, but it is suspected to have been brought in accidentally from southern Europe, probably Italy.
Max Barclay, Senior Curator in Charge of the Natural History Museum’s collection of over 10 million scientific specimens of beetles, said, “This was a complex identification involving several researchers including five from the Natural History Museum.
“The beetle is part of the European fauna so it is not completely out of its natural range. Approximately 10-15 new beetle species are introduced to the UK from Europe each year, but very few coming to our attention as pests, so this is an uncommon event.
“It is important to identify a pest correctly in order to use the proper control regimes. It’s not completely out of its natural range as it is from Europe, so it will hopefully have some competitors and predators to keep its numbers in check.”
Although the origin of A. spilotus in Britain may never be fully established, it is possible that an initial colonisation was made by weevils imported into a horticultural garden centre for domestic use.
The specimen will be displayed for the first time this Friday evening at Science Uncovered.