A serious threat to date palms in North Cyprus has been burrowing away out of sight. The red palm weevil has the potential to devastate the date palm population here. These large beetles, and particularly their larvae, eat the palms from the inside out, with thousands of larvae hatching out in a single tree.
Originally from tropical Asia, red palm weevils are now becoming widespread throughout the Mediterranean, with reports of infestations in Malta, Italy, Spain and France, and can even be found as far as California, where they are a major concern for date plantation owners. In Andalucia for example over 10,000 palm trees were destroyed by the weevil in 2008. The weevil can fly several kilometres but is mainly spread through transportation of palms. This is the primary cause of the infestation in Cyprus. Some time ago the North Cyprus government imported date palms from Egypt, where they have a major problem with red palm weevils. Since then the weevil population here has been growing and there are an increasing number of reports of affected palms. One Lapta resident recently received the bad news about her date palm. Margaret said her gardener took one look at the palm and said “palm tree, dead!” She couldn’t believe it would die, as only a few of the lower leaves had wilted in the last couple of weeks, but the gardener claimed he’d seen this many times and the result would be the death of the palm as the infestation was already well established. Margaret says, “He just reached into the top of the palm and pulled out a handful of these beetles! I’m so sad. It was such a lovely tree”.
There are no guaranteed methods of prevention or treatment. However, the weevils tend to lay eggs in any soft or damaged areas of the palm tree so avoiding damage to the palm and tarring leaf stumps after pruning can help. This also means that it is mainly the younger trees that are affected. The weevils are extremely resistant to pesticides. Some countries have managed to control, but not eradicate, the beetles by using pesticide injections combined with entomopathogenic nematodes, parasites which attack the weevils, and pheromone traps. However, these are costly treatments and an island-wide campaign would be needed, which is not currently among the list of priorities for North Cyprus local councils. Only the date palm is known to be affected – other palm tree species remain untouched. Research continues in other affected countries to find an efficient solution.