Regulatory Control of Potato Tuber Worm

Potato tuber worms (Phthorimaea operculella) infestations of potatoes during storage have been studied (see reference list). They often infest potatoes in the field and can reproduce and cause extensive damage during storage. Reported damage during storage was 50% in Peru and Yemen, 86% in Algeria, Tunisia and Turkey, 90% in Kenya and 100% in India and Philippines (Alvarez et al. 2005). Expansion of the geographical range of the pest often is a result of marketing infested potatoes but adults can fly 0.15 miles between fields. Potato tuber worm is known to infest tomatoes, egg plant, peppers, tobacco and 60 other species of host plants in addition to potatoes. By 1917, this species was known to be established on potatoes in six states (California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Texas), was known to be established on other hosts in another five states (Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia) and had been found but not established in seven states (Kansas, Massachusetts, Maine, Montana, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin) (Graf 1917).

Potato tuber worm infestations in Maryland near the Virginia border were found from 1923 to 1925 and methods were developed for managing the pest (Cory and Saunders 1926). Cull potatoes were important in carrying over the pest from one crop to the next.

In 1939, a single bin of 125 bushels of potatoes in Nebraska was found to be infested with potato tuber worm, but potatoes were used or destroyed and no additional near by infestations were found (Tate 1943). In 1940, this pest was found on growing plants in the field and culls elsewhere in Nebraska and in spring of 1942 the Bureau of Entomology and Plant Quarantine surveyed 75 potato fields and other hosts and found only a single potato tuber worm. Tate also reported that potato tuber worm had been found but not established in Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. He speculated that they were imported with potatoes from western seed producing areas.

In 1942, Kansas limited its quarantine to California, Hawaii, Louisiana and Texas (Anon. 1942). In 1966, potato tuber worms were found in potato stored at a potato chip factory in Iowa and eliminated by fumigation (Morford 1966). In 1972, Michigan declared quarantine restricting movement of potato tuber worm infested potatoes, their associated containers and vehicles within the State of Michigan (Ball 1972).

The potato tuber worm illustrates the relation between commercial interest in keeping market share and the need to use quarantine or fumigation to prevent the expansion of the geographic range of a pest species (Mackie 1932). In 1919, Canada and Idaho had an embargo on California potatoes, Oregon and Washington had inspectors certify that the potatoes were free of infestation at point of origin prior to shipment and Montana, Utah and Colorado inspected potatoes upon arrival. By 1931, California had developed fumigation methods that allowed them to certify that potatoes were free of potato tuber worm and they were shipping potatoes as far east as Kansas City and as far north as Winnipeg, Canada. Potato tuber worm became a serious problem in Oregon, Washington and Idaho from 2002 to 2005 (Alvarez et al. 2005, Rondon et al. 2007) and action plans have been developed (Anon. 2006).


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Abdel-Salam, A. M.; Assem, M. A.; Yousef, K. H. 1972. Studies on potato pests in UAR. III. Effect of some insecticides on the potato tuber worm in the field and storage. Z. Angew. Entomol. 70(2): 157-160.

Alvarez, Juan Manuel, Eric Dotseth and Phil Nolte. 2005. Potato Tuberworm A Threat for Idaho Potatoes. Univ. Idaho CIS 1125.

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Helson, G. A. H. 1942. Inert mineral dusts as a means of control for potato moths, Phthorimaea operculella Zell. in stored potato. Australia Council Sci. and Industr. Res. J. 15:257-261.

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Herman, T.J.B., J. R. Clearwater, and C. M. Triggs. 2005. Impact of pheromone trap design, placement and pheromone blend on catch of potato tuber moth. N. Z. Plant Protect. 58: 219-223.

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Keasar, Tamar; Kalish, Adi; Becher, Ori; Steinberg, Shimon. 2005. Spatial and temporal dynamics of potato tuberworm (Lepidoptera: Gelechiidae) infested in field-stored potatoes. J. Econ. Entomol. 98: 222-228

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Nirula, K.K., and R. Kumar. 1964. Control of potato tuber-moth in country stores. Indian Potato Journal 6: 30–33.

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Rondon, S.I., S.J. DeBano, G.H. Clough, P.B. Hamm, A. Jensen, A. Schreiber, J.M. Alvarez, M. Thornton, J. Barbour, and M. Dŏgramaci. 2007. Biology and management of the potato tuberworm in the Pacific Northwest. PNW 594.

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