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By John Woods

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, April 4) – A nasty new pest known as a Glassy Winged Sharpshooter has been discovered in Rarotonga in the Cook Isalnds—causing alarm among quarantine services in both the Cook Islands and New Zealand.

The insect is believed to have come from Tahiti in plants smuggled into Rarotonga.

The ugly Sharpshooter is known to feed and reproduce on more than 300 host plants including trees, crops and ornamentals such as hibiscus, gardenia and papaya.

It is also known to transmit the serious Pierce's disease of grapes and although the disease has not been recorded in French Polynesia, New Zealand officials are very concerned about a possible incursion from Rarotonga to New Zealand and a threat to the lucrative wine industry there.

Local ministry of agriculture entomologist Dr Maja Poeschko says an adult specimen of the first unknown leafhopper was discovered feeding on a small flamboyant tree in Nikao on 3 March.

The insect was caught, mounted and photographed for identification. A second adult was discovered two days later at the same location on hibiscus, but it escaped.

Dr Poeschko provisionally identified the specimen as Homalodisca Vitripennis or the Glassy Winged Sharpshooter, but for confirmation sent photos and eventually the mounted specimen to a Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry entomologist in New Zealand, Peter Maddison. Photos were also sent to Secretariat of the Pacific Community entomologist Sada Nand Lal in Fiji.

Scientists at MAFF's investigation and diagnostic center in Auckland have this week confirmed the specimen is a female Glassy Winged Sharpshooter.

Dr Poeschko said yesterday the population of the Sharpshooter appears to be very low at present, but an outbreak could be expected in the near future.

Agriculture authorities are now liaising to work out a strategy including a possible bio-control program and a public awareness campaign.

Cook Islands quarantine staff will increase airport security and randomly search passengers arriving from Tahiti.

Cook Islands News

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