Caterpillar army

Colombia considers unleashing caterpillar army to attack cocaine crops

Melissa Breyer (@MelissaBreyer)


CC BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons

When the World Health Organization reclassified glyphosate-based herbicides as a possible carcinogen back in March, it was an unexpected boon to rebel groups in Colombia. Until recently, the controversial herbicide had been the Colombian government’s weapon of choice in battling cocaine crops that fund the fighting. Last week, the country’s president Juan Manuel Santos announced that they would stop using the herbicide, which has been linked to miscarriages, skin issues and even cancer. Glyphosate is the main ingredient in Roundup.

Santos’ decision is a great victory for people’s health and the environment, but also for the rebels who often employ armed guards to protect the crops, making manual eradication daunting. With all of this in mind, the government is looking for alternative ways to destroy the crops – one idea that is being considered is employing coca-loving caterpillars that would make mincemeat of the harvest.

For years now a number of scientists have promoted the idea of using the cocaine tussock moth to do the dirty work. The moth Eloria noyesi, known as “el gringo” by the locals, only lays its eggs on coca leaves; which the caterpillars then consume. Carlos Alberto Gomez, president of the privately funded National Network of Botanical Gardens says, “Its instincts allow it to find coca plants wherever they are.” Read more.