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Weevils Go To Work Against Spotted Knapweed

Knapweed Weevils

Last weekend, a group of bug farmers in Montana addressed a package to Galena, Missouri, and dropped it off at the US Postal Service. After a stop in Sacramento, California, the refrigerated package arrived in the Ozarks on Wednesday, to someone at the University of Missouri Extension office in Galena who was anxiously awaiting its arrival. Inside were hundreds of small, living weevils, which experts say might be the only hope to stop the spotted knapweed from taking over Missouri’s roadways and farms. On Friday, KSMU's Jennifer Moore went out with one man who is distributing the weevils by hand.

Tim Schnakenberg with the MU Extension office in Galena opens the can of 100 weevils alongside Highway 60, halfway between Billings and Marionville. As he explains how they will mate and eventually attack the spotted knapweed, Schnakenberg starts to toss the weevils around, wherever he sees the spotted knapweed growing.

Spotted knapweed only appeared in Missouri in the late 1990s, and wasn’t much of a nuisance until about seven years ago. No one knows for sure how it arrived in Missouri, but farmers have heard about the devastating impact it has had on crops out West, and they’re concerned.

We walk along the railroad tracks, and Schnakenberg explains that the reason he chose this site is because the farmer just adjacent to the railroad tracks noticed the knapweed approaching his crops, and asked for help.

We walk back through the tall grass and weeds as Schnakenberg empties his can of weevils, and they begin to do their work. I try not to step on any as we make our way back to the road, especially since they cost 80 cents per weevil. They were paid for through a University of Missouri grant.

Since the spotted knapweed has already spread throughout most of southwest and south-central Missouri, Schnakenberg knows today’s 100 weevils are just a drop in the bucket in the overall fight against the threatening weed. But, he says, it’s a start.

In the 2008 legislative session, the General Assembly officially added the spotted knapweed to its “Noxious Weeds List.” Those are plants that pose a significant economic threat to the state.

For KSMU News, I’m Jennifer Moore.

Tim Schnakenberg examines a young spotted knapweed plant. (Photo credit: Jennifer Moore)