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Fall armyworms spread to 10 Asian countries, threaten 20% of crops

Reason for rapid spread of pest remains unknown

Fall armyworm. (Council of Agriculture photo)

Fall armyworm. (Council of Agriculture photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Fall armyworms (Spodoptera frugiperda) have spread to 10 Asian countries and are expected to affect as much as 20 percent of the continent's crops, the Liberty Times reports.

The first Asian sighting of the fall armyworm was in India. It then spread to Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, China, Taiwan, and Japan.

The species, which originated in the Americas, has already spread throughout much of Africa. Although fully grown moths are capable of long-distance flight, how they managed to travel to so many countries in such a short time frame still puzzles experts.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations estimates that the species will devastate 1.2 to 20 percent of crops produced in the aforementioned Asian countries. Although the fall armyworm is usually found in cornfields, as many as 353 types of crops are vulnerable to the fast-producing pest.

There have been 199 confirmed fall armyworm sightings in Taiwan, with more than 50 hectares of cornfields being affected as of July 10, according to the Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine (BAPHIQ). The bureau has also captured 236 moths with pheromone traps, showing that the species has become alarmingly adept at reproducing on the island.

Meanwhile, the worms had already destroyed over 330 thousand hectares of cornfields in China by June of this year. Professor Gui Furong (桂富榮) at Yunnan Agricultural University warns that if the pests continued unchecked, they could cause losses of RMB ¥200 million (about US$29 million).