Beetle-rearing lab to combat invasive vine in Fla.

Lab run by high school students in Fort Lauderdale

By Jacey Birch - Anchor/Animal Advocate , Associated Press

MIAMI - A gorgeous green canopy that covers the Kendal Indian Hammocks Park only appears to be beautiful abundant plants.

"It's really a problem because its killed a lot of our native species of plants and it's basically overgrowing and taking over our natural areas," said Jabari McNichols.

The air potato vine -- originally from Nepal -- is now out of control and choking half of the natural areas in Miami-Dade.

With the help of a state farm grant, TERRA Environmental Research Institute high school students have joined forces with the United States Department of Agriculture to find an environmentally safe and inexpensive way to wipe out these winding vines.

A beetle-rearing lab, run by the students and unveiled Wednesday, may help combat the invasive plant species plaguing Florida parks and yards.

"This invasive species grows like a weed and it's taking over our South Florida parks, but it's like an all-you-can-eat buffet for the beetle, and you can see its already doing its job, chomping right through the air potato vine," said Min Rayamajhi.

Miami-Dade County and U.S. Department of Agriculture officials say the beetles -- called Lilioceris cheni or Lili -- can help fight the herbaceous air potato twining vine that's listed as one of Florida's most invasive plant species and smothers native vegetation.

"What we're trying to do is do a biological control, which is completely different from pesticides or chemicals or anything like that," McNichols said. "It's using the natural enemy of the invasive species to take it down."

The leaf-feeding beetles set up at the lab will reproduce in order to be released into a South Florida park later this year.

A county statement says the USDA Agricultural Research Service, Invasive Plant Research Laboratory in Fort Lauderdale will provide the initial starter beetles in partnership with Miami-Dade County parks and other agencies.

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