Special beetles being used to control invasive plant species killing off native plants

LARGO - Take a walk around Largo Central Park Nature Preserve and you will see a heart-shaped leafy vine almost everywhere you look.

Problem is the vine does not belong there.

The air potato vine is considered to be the most invasive species in Florida. Once it makes itself at home it overtakes native plants around it and killing them. 

"It starts shading out the natives, fights it for sunlight, water, and nutrients," Largo Parks Superintendent Greg Brown told us.

"Somebody probably thought they were a good-looking vine when they went to Asia, brought them back here as well," Brown said.

The air potato vine can grow up to 70 feet every summer and devour everything around it. That's why experts want to get rid of it.

Florida now has a new weapon in the fight to get control of the vine. The lilioceris cheni a.k.a. the air potato leaf beetle.

"They chew holes in the leaves, damage the actual plant and then they'll lay their eggs on the actual plant itself and a whole new generation will hatch out and start chewing on the leaves again," Brown said.

On Tuesday Greg Brown helped release 300 beetles in four parks around Largo that have air potato infestations. Those places were Largo Central Park Nature Preserve, Bonner Park, McGough Nature Park, and Highland Recreation Complex.

This is all part of the state's plan to combat the air potato vine problem. So far more than 30,000 beetles have been released in 16 Florida counties.

The beetles at Largo Central Park Nature Preserve already seem to be getting the job done. "None of these leaves had holes in them last night, yesterday when we put these out and they're already going to work for us," Brown said.

George says he hopes the beetles help control the vines, but says the problem may be never ending.

"As the vines go down and the beetles go up it will probably balance out, but we will never be done with either one," he said.

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