Science - September 28, 2010

Snout beetle outbreak: first or fake?

Wageningen entomologists are ringing the alarm bells over the exotic snout beetle, reported NOS News last week. 'I nearly fell off my chair from seeing that', says Wageningen entomologist Marcel Dicke, unaware of what went on.

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An entomologist - I don't know her - claims that the snout beetle is devastating the Netherlands', says Dicke. 'I was completely flabbergasted when I heard that Wageningen entomologists would be heeding her distress call. We haven't come across problems with snout beetles in the Netherlands of the magnitude presented by NOS News.'
NOS News is not the only one which reported that exotic snout beetles are becoming more and more of a problem in gardens and parks in the Netherlands. The Volkskrant newspaper and television personality Paul de Leeuw also brought attention to this matter. They were motivated by a report by the Netherlands national news agency ANP, which based its story on a message in the website natuurbericht.nl.
Sightings all over the country
This website is coordinated by Wageningen biologist Arnold van Vliet of 'De Natuurkalender' fame. Van Vliet put up the message based on information from Silvia Hellingman, an entomologist living in Drenthe Province, whom he considers a very trustworthy source. 'Hellingman is an active and concerned entomologist with her own company dealing with biological control of diseases and plagues', says Van Vliet. 'She based her conclusions on the tens of confirmed sightings all over the country by people who are having problems with snout beetles in their gardens', says Van Vliet. 'That evidence was sufficient for us to make a case for posting the message on the website.' Not only have residents made the advancing snout beetles a discussion topic, several municipal councils in the west of the country have meanwhile also placed the snout beetle on their agenda, adds Van Vliet.
One sighting
He himself has seen one instance of snout beetles causing problems: his neighbour had hundreds of them in his home last summer. But the Netherlands has no monitoring network which keeps tabs on snout beetles. Neither has the Plant Protection Service (PD) received any additional reports of snout beetles.
Yet, ANP reported that Wageningen entomologists have confirmed the distress call from Hellingman and are calling for better control of the import of plants into the Netherlands. 'I can imagine that Marcel Dicke, who isn't aware of this at all, was surprised about the reports', says Van Vliet. 'The Laboratory of Entomology was not involved. In any case, I didn't use the terms alarm bells and distress call.'
The PD hopes to find out soon whether there is really a new outbreak of snout beetles. 'We will be investigating the incidence of snout beetles in a number of municipalities', says its spokesman Roel Vincken. It remains to be seen whether natuurbericht.nl has launched a first or a fake.

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