The Sideshow

Beetle released into Texas ecosystem to combat invasive weeds

Eric Pfeiffer
The Sideshow

A foreign insect is being introduced into Texas, and it just may save the local ecosystem.

The Army Corps of Engineers is breeding and deploying the alligator weed flea beetle into the Dallas Floodway Extension in order to combat an invasive plant species that has all but taken over the local plant population.

And when the weed thrives, it also threatens local fish populations, literally clogging up local waterways. But the little South American beetle may just become a hero in Texas.

"These are good bugs," Julie Nachtrieb, who raises the beetles, told CBS. "They're not going to bite people. They're not going to be a pest."

In fact, the beetle and the unwanted weeds are perfect for each other. The alligator weed has no natural predators in the Texas wilderness. And the alligator weed flea beetle feeds exclusively on the plant.

"This insect can only feed on this plant or it will die.  They've evolved together; they co-exist," Nachtrieb explained. "The insect depends on the plant.  It cannot feed on anything else."

It turns out this is not the first such mission for the tiny beetle, which is native to Brazil. The Army Corps of Engineers previously unleashed the beetles in California and South Carolina in 1964 to battle the invasive weeds. It's even been used in Texas before and across the South. After its success in battling the weeds in the '60s, other countries around the world followed suit.

Reportedly, the beetles are already showing measurable results in the areas where they have been deployed. Nonetheless, Nachtrieb isn't expecting much adulation for her efforts.

"I think most people don't know what to ask, or what to say, once you say, 'I grow bugs for a living.'"

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