Mo Way on Texas Rice: Update on Rice Planthopper

    Rice field. ©Debra L Ferguson Stock Photography

    Well, off to a soggy start for the New Year. On January 18, I drove through Houston to participate in the Western Rice Belt Production Conference in El Campo. Many of the streets were flooded in Houston due to a storm that dumped about 6-7 inches of rain in a very short period of time. We are also having unseasonably warm weather—in fact, I think during the last 2 weeks, SE Texas has experienced 3 days of record breaking temperatures for those particular dates. I know the price of rice is down with no real good news for the near future, but soybean prices are good. You may want to consider planting soybeans in rotation with rice. 

    Last week I visited the Texas A&M campus at College Station to meet with Drs. Ismael Badillo-Vargas and Peng Yu to discuss future research on the rice planthopper, Tagosodes orizicolus. This pest is native to Central America and the Caribbean.

    In 2015, we first found the rice planthopper in Texas attacking the ratoon rice crop. Populations were high and widespread and damage was severe. I was certain it would be problematic again last year, but we did not find a single specimen, despite extensive sampling/monitoring in 2016. I don’t know where all the insects went or what became of them, but Ismael, Peng and I want to study this pest in its native environment, so we made plans to visit Central America to study this pest on location. We need to be prepared more than we were in 2015.

    I have made contacts in Costa Rica, Nacaragua, Honduras and Panama with scientists and/or producers. Thanks to Dwight Roberts for introducing me to some of these potential Latin American cooperators. Our plan is to learn how the Texas infestation originated; see hoja blanca – the disease caused by a virus transmitted by the planthopper; determine  the percentage of insects and rice plants infected with the virus; and finding out how the insect and disease are managed in Central America.

    While at College Station, I showed the campus to 5 undergrad Chinese who are at the Beaumont Center on a learn/work program. We visited the Texas A&M University Insect Collection (TAMUIC) housed in the Department of Entomology. We were guided by Ed Riley, “retired” Associate Curator. We appreciate Dr. Karen Wright, Assistant Curator, for setting up the tour.

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    TAMUIC serves as a research, teaching and outreach facility. However, its main mission is as a research museum. Scientists send specimens to the TAMUIC for identification and safekeeping for future study and reference.

    For instance, I sent unidentified rice planthopper specimens collected in 2015 in Texas to TAMUIC. They were positively identified as Tagosodes orizicolus. These specimens are now permanently housed in the TAMUIC with additional information including date and location of collection, collector and host plant. Other pertinent biological information can be added.

    As Ed quipped, “Scientists retire and die, but curated specimens in a museum virtually “survive” forever serving as a resource for future generations of scientists.” TAMUIC is the largest insect museum in Texas and is 1 of the 10 largest in the US. Approximately 3 million curated insect specimens are housed in the TAMUIC and about 15,000 specimens are loaned out to scientists for study annually. In addition, TAMUIC hires many undergraduates to help curate the collection while gaining valuable work experience.

    After visiting the TAMUIC, Alexandra (Alex) Williams, an entomology undergraduate student from near Dallas, walked the interns to Kyle Field, the Student Center, the Aggie Parade Grounds, Evans Library, the Aggie Bonfire Memorial, the Century Tree and various historic administration buildings. All the while Alex described and explained the many Aggie traditions so unique to Texas A&M. I thank Alex for her time, expertise and friendliness. I also thank Rebecca Hapes for coordinating our visit with Alex’s schedule.

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