Æ : Action Ecology

Pest profile: Passion Vine Hoppers (Scolypopa australis)

Passion Vine Hopper (Scolypopa australis) is a common pest in New Zealand (as it is elsewhere - such as in its home territory of Australia) where it sucks the sap out of living plants. You can read all about them here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scolypopa_australis

Having noticed it thriving (in abundance) in my 600m2 edible forest garden property in New Zealand's Bay of Plenty region for some time - and having lost at least seven Kakabeak (
Clianthus maximus) plants to them as well as seeing them feasting on pretty much everything else planted here too to varying degrees -
I had been wondering for a while what the best way to reduce their pressure might be.

It's not as straightforward as you might think as I:
a) did not want to use any sprays (which would knock out any and all insects, friend and foe alike) and
b) am always really interested to find out about the ecological processes normally at play - and how to restore them when broken.

This approach is important because you need to remember that just wiping out the pest (even if you could) does nothing to protect you next time - as no pest means no food resource for predators - and thus without predators you're just waiting for the next siege to be laid on your (defenceless) plants and the cycle of you having to do nature's job for it continues.

So I had been keeping an eye on the situation while trying to research natural control methods but all I could find was people recommending sprays (synthetic chemical or natural ones like Pyrethrum or Neem) but of course this wasn't going to solve my problem long term.

Not being one to give up however, I continued - determined to find out just what exactly eats them in the wild. Something must, surely. The only small lingering doubt I had was that Passion Vine Hoppers (PVHs) are an introduced / invasive / exotic species and so might it be possible that they didn't have a native predator? Seemed far fetched but I couldn't fid anything online that spoke to this. So while none of my research online had yielded any results, I started trying to experiment directly.

First I captured a decent sized praying mantis (which are known to eat a large variety or insects - even lizards, and small reptiles when large enough to catch them) so surely they would eat PVHs no? After placing one of the (very common on my property) praying mantis' in a container with three captured PVHs, I waited and after two days, it hadn't eaten a one. Clearly it was a picky eater, or it doesn't eat them - or maybe it doesn't hunt when in captivity (but I highly doubt it).

Disappointed but not put off, I started to hit the scientific journals to see what research might have been done by etymologists or similar but initial searches didn't immediately produce anything much either other than a pathogenic fungus that I wouldn't be able to obtain easily in all likelihood. Does anyone know what eats these insects? Someone must, surely.

Well, now
I do.

During a routine inspection of my trees I spotted (to my great nerdy delight) a Passion Vine Hopper being eaten by a jumping spider.
Finally, the proof I needed that my faith in predator pest relations was founded (even for introduced species).

So without further ado, I present to you my latest favourite picture -
Opisthoncus polyphemus catching and eating Scolypopus australis.

Opisthoncus polyphemus v Scolypopus australis

Obviously I will keep researching this subject when I find spare time to look into it, but at least for now I know that at least one thing is out there eating those Passion Vine Hoppers while I learn more about the ecology of this particular pest.

I don't know what other information is out there, and I'm not claiming to be the first to observe this relationship, but considering how hard it is to find this information I thought I would help others out there by sharing what I have learned so far, and shine at least a little light on how to approach this challenge using the ecological approach - as information is pretty thin on the ground.

Now, I will just wait and trust that jumping spider populations will rise to the occasion and feast like kings on the all to abundant food resource I have here for them.
If you have any information you wish to share on this, please feel free to get in touch via the contact page.
I will update this page if I learn more in future.

A really good interview with world famous author and professor Michael Pollan on how we talk about climate change, agriculture and food - but also how to simplify the solutions.