The palm forest at Vai Beach is one of the largest and most famous habitats of the Cretan date palm, Phoenix theophrasti. In recent months, these trees have been attacked by the most destructive palm pest, the red beetle Rhynchophorus ferrugineus. So far, at least 16 trees growing closer to the beach have died as a result of this invasion.
This insect first appeared in the palm forest in Vai in September last year on one of the palm trees growing near the parking lot. For some time, scientists expected that the beetle would not attack Phoenix theophrasti palms, which were resistant to it due to the exceptional hardness of the trunk characteristic of this species. However, everything indicates that the beetle has also found a way into the Cretan palm. Let us remind you that this species of palm is characteristic primarily of Crete and southern Greece. It is considered one of the most durable of all date palms.
To save the remaining healthy trees, foresters immediately started cleaning the infected palms and injecting a special insecticide into the trunks to destroy the beetle larvae. Trees that had died by now were burned on site to prevent the spread of destructive insects. Inside their trunks there were large populations of insects and their larvae.
In recent months, the pest has caused extensive damage to palm trees growing in Crete, despite attempts to neutralize it. Everything indicates that mild winters caused by climate change favor the destructive activity of the beetle. Research carried out in China has shown that temperatures in the range of 28-32 degrees are most favorable for the development of this insect.
Red beetle Rhynchophorus ferrugineus, source: https://www.ekriti.gr
The damage is mainly caused by larvae that tunnel from the tree crown, sometimes to the base of the trunk, and feed on the soft tissues and fibers inside the palm. Unfortunately, it is not immediately apparent that the tree has been attacked. It is only when, as the core of the palm is destroyed, its leaves begin to wither and fall, that the disease can be noticed. However, by then it is too late to attempt rescue. Eventually, the tree rots from the inside, accompanied by the stench of fermentation. An attacked and weakened palm tree also becomes susceptible to bacterial and fungal infections, which accelerate its death.
Manolis Koudoumas, supervising the work on behalf of the Lassithi Forest Directorate on saving the palm trees in Vai, is to immediately prepare a report on the actions taken and submit it to the Minister of the Environment. An action plan to combat the beetle should be developed at the ministry as soon as possible, otherwise Crete risks the destruction of the famous palm forest and other habitats of the Cretan palm.
The experiences of other countries indicate that Rhynchophorus ferrugineus is responsible for infecting up to 25% of palm trees in Egypt. The United States, the Caribbean and Spain also struggle with this insect. Europeans noticed the problem too late, as exemplified by Portugal, where 14 years passed from the appearance of the first insect to taking real action. This delay caused the destructive beetle to become established throughout southern Europe.