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Army worms infest Candoni barangay

Last Thursday, the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction Management Officer of Candoni, Nick Lachica II, posted photos on Facebook, showing the invasion of worms in cogonal areas in Sitio Dian-an, Barangay Gatuslao in his town in southern Negros Occidental.

In his status update, Lachica claimed the army of worms attacked and wiped out an estimated two hectares of cogon grasses in a matter of two days. He further stated the worms are already near sugarcane fields, and may cause damage to sugarcane plantations. The occurrence of this unfamiliar organism has been noted since May 5, Lachica elaborated.

I reposted some of Lachica's photos on my FB wall, hoping to secure information from my friends who are experts in entomology, and I received several interesting and yet alarming feedbacks.

Sheryl Atilano Yap, resident entomologist of the Natural History Museum of the University of the Philippines Los Baños, suspected the species as Mythimnaseparata, or commonly known as army worm. She requested for specimens to further confirm the identification of the species, but based on the photos, she said that they are likely army worms. Yap attributed to this phenomenon to the prolonged dry season and the sudden occurrence of rain.

Mary Aidine Galvan, who holds a doctorate degree in natural and biological farming system, expressed fears that the bugs, given their large size appearance, might have already mutated due to indiscriminate use of chemical pesticides in the area. She said, “Some chemical pesticides disrupt the molting process of the insect to kill them.”

Galvan added, “Surviving population will develop a way to override this, either molting frequency increases, or a short cut to the molting pathway.” She also mentioned several other potential factors that would trigger this organism's population boom and oversize adults, which will result to massive infestation. She suggested refraining from using any chemical treatment and, instead, resorting to appropriate biological treatments, which she claimed to be of help once detailed information from the site is made available to her.

When I asked about the possibility of biological imbalance – meaning predators are less available in the area to consume this organism, Galvan replied in the affirmative, saying that, probably, there is no more natural bug busters in the system. She said what is needed is to ameliorate the natural system to inoculate the infested area with beneficial and natural occurring microorganisms that can control the pest population.

Negros Occidental's Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer Andre Untal has already ordered field investigation. He said coordination should be made with the Municipal Agricultural Officer of Candoni, Department of Agriculture and other relevant institutions to address this phenomenon.

Mundita Lim, director of the Biodiversity Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, expressed interest in the case, because it might have something to do with issues related to biological diversity. The BMB is now implementing a project that promotes biodiversity friendly agriculture practices.

This situation in Candoni reminds me how important it is to ensure a balanced ecosystem, because, from all indications, the presence of these army worms may have been triggered by inappropriate and destructive agricultural practices. Some friendly organisms that are beneficial in maintaining productive agricultural system have already been wiped out due to indiscriminate use of pesticides and insecticides. In addition, our agricultural ecosystem should also be supported with other healthy ecosystems to ensure that the different natural systems and processes are not impaired. Candoni, for example, is already heavily deforested and some agriculture friendly organisms inhabiting in the forests may no longer be available.*

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