/ shop/ history of the boll weevil

The boll weevil (Anthonomus grandis) is a beetle which feeds on cotton buds and flowers. Thought to be native to Central America, it migrated into the United States from Mexico in the late 19th century and caused widespread infestation, devastating the cotton industry and the people working in the American south.

The boll weevil is about one-fourth of an inch (6 mm) long and has a long, sharp beak, or snout. The primary damage to cotton occurs when female boll weevils deposit eggs in fruiting structures (flower buds and seed pods, or bolls) on developing cotton plants. The female uses the beak to pierce the cotton flower buds and then deposits within each bud an egg that hatches into a larva. Upon hatching, the boll-weevil larvae feed upon the inside of the bud, causing it to wilt and drop off the stem. The larva develops into a beetle that continues to feed on the buds and bolls. Later, the weevil eggs are laid inside the boll itself, with the result that the larvae devour the interior, blighting the boll, rendering them unsuitable for harvest.

Intensive use of broad-spectrum insecticides for boll-weevil control often caused outbreaks of other insect pests, because these insecticides cause the destruction of natural enemies, such as parasites and predatory insects that suppress various pest species in cotton. Selective insecticides often target an individual group of insects; for example, some insecticides control caterpillar pests and do not harm predators or parasoids. Dependence on insecticide is often referred to as a "pesticide treadmill", which is the tendency of pests to become resistant to the effects of a particular pesticide, so they are no longer affected by them. This can happen through behavioural change (which helps them to avoid the pesticide), biochemical change (which allows them to detoxify the pesticide), or some other genetic characteristic that reduces their susceptibility to the pesticide. New and even more toxic pesticides then have to be used, to which pests may eventually become resistant, and the spiral continues.

From 1978 onwards, cotton farmers in the U.S. were required to participate in the Boll Weevil Eradication Programme (BWEP), which resulted in temporary elimination of the boll weevil as an economic pest, however the BWEP is an ongoing programme, as boll-weevil reinfestation continues to be a threat to the cotton industry today.





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