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Gorse Gobbling Mites To Be Set Free Today

Mon, 13 Sep 2004

Gorse Gobbling Mites To Be Set Free Today

MEDIA RELEASE Gorse-gobbling mites to be set free todayCanterbury primary school pupils have been given an important responsibility * a tiny mite with a big appetite for gorse. Gorse is one of New Zealand's five worst weeds. In an innovative new programme, children from three Lyttelton primary schools (St Joseph's, Lyttelton Main and Lyttelton West) and Yaldhurst School on the western outskirts of Christchurch have been rearing gorse spider mites in their classrooms for a month.

Today, to coincide with the end of term, they will release the mites onto gorse infestations near their school. The project is a joint Landcare Research and Weedbusters initiative based on an Australian programme, and supported by the Department of Conservation and the Royal Society's teacher fellowship scheme.

Landcare Research technician Julia Wilson-Davey and Royal Society Teacher Fellow Richard Goldsbrough have been visiting the schools, teaching children about weeds and biocontrol agents such as the gorse spider mite."We talked about why weeds are a problem, and the various ways to control them," Ms Wilson-Davey says.

"We explained what biocontrol agents are * natural enemies of the weed they feed on, and nothing else. Gorse spider mites are widespread throughout New Zealand and their large patches of webbing are a common sight on gorse bushes in late summer.

The mites stunt the growth of the plants they feed on, killing shoots and decreasing the density of the plant. "We gave the children gorse spider mites to rear in the classroom, and they have done a great job looking after them."The gorse spider mites are very small, but their brick red colour makes them easy to see.

They are reared on gorse cuttings, eating their way up the plant and laying eggs as they go. When the mites have finished eating the cutting they are moved to a new cutting, and the process begins again."This mass rearing process requires patience and attention to detail, as well as planning ahead for care during weekends" Ms Wilson-Davey says.

"The children have shown a great degree of interest and responsibility looking after the mites." Richard Goldsbrough says as well as teaching children about weeds, the programme is teaching them that science is an important part of everyday life."Also, there were several budding scientists in those classes, asking fairly sophisticated questions such as 'what will happen when the mites eat all the gorse?' and 'how do you know what plants to test the biocontrol agent against before it's released?'""The interest in weeds and biocontrol that has been generated in these classrooms shows that the programme is achieving its aims.

The programme materials and lesson plans will be available for use in schools throughout the country next year. "Julia and I are also considering adapting the programme to focus on other weeds we have biocontrol agents for."

The children will be releasing the mites into weed infestations at the Lyttelton Scenic Reserve (up the Major Hornbrook track), TODAY, Monday 13 September, at about 11am.


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