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Biological control of cat's claw creeper

Cats claw creeper on a tree Bugs on Cats claw creeper

What is cat’s claw creeper?

Cat's claw creeper (Dolichandra unguis-cati) is an exotic vine weed that threatens Gold Coast waterways and bushland areas.

Cat’s claw creeper is native to tropical America and is an aggressive climber that was used as an ornamental in older-style Queensland gardens.

This vine has the ability to smother native vegetation to the point of complete canopy coverage resulting in the death of canopy and understory species. Many bushland areas in the City of Gold Coast have significant infestations of this weed.

The vine has a vigorous root and tuber system, which makes it difficult to control. Cat’s claw creeper is a vigorous pest in Queensland and has been declared a category 3 weed under the Biosecurity Act 2014.

In 2012 cat’s claw creeper was also listed as a Weed of National Significance by the Commonwealth of Australia (Australian Weeds Committee 2012).

Biological control

There are currently three known biological controls being used in south east Queensland (SEQ) for the management of cat's claw creeper.

  1. Leaf mining jewel beetle (Hylaeogena jureceki)
  2. Leaf sucking tingid bug (Carvalhotingis visenda)
  3. Leaf-tying pyralid moth (Hypocosmia pyrochroma)

The City encourages an integrated pest management approach and would welcome an additional control option.

Therefore, the City has developed a program which proposes to use one of the three known biological controls (i.e. leaf-mining jewel beetle) due to its availability, diverse approach offered and past use in the south east.

The leaf-mining jewel beetle (a native to Brazil and Argentina imported to Australia in 2002) is a small insect being released in locations around south east Queensland to help fight the spread of cat's claw creeper. Adult jewel beetle chew holes in leaves and lay eggs on leaf margins and the emerging larvae mine within the leaves.

Phase 1

Phase 1 (2013-14) of the biological control of cat's claw creeper program involves developing a jewel beetle breeding program, selecting sites that are suitable for monitoring and release, partnering with and supporting Gold Coast Catchment Association to run the "Bug on Creepy Creeper Program", and engaging with the community through a number of workshops.

A report was prepared for the City to provide a best practice method for evaluating the impacts of biological control on cat’s claw creeper.

In particular, this report identified suitable release sites; assessed the extent of cat’s claw creeper at potential release sites; and finally monitored and evaluated the success of cat's claw creeper establishment (in the shorter term) and the impacts to cat's claw creeper (in the longer term).

Phase 2

Phase 2 (2013-2014) has commenced and involves rolling out the program through Healthy Waterways ‘Up the Creek and Down the Drain’ school engagement program, and monitoring, measuring and evaluating the changes of cat's claw creeper at the release sites.

Monitoring methods developed will assist in the success of biocontrol agents.

Phase 3

Phase 3 (2014-2015) included implementing the actions from Phase 1 and 2, however applying them at a larger scale (i.e. city-wide).

A report was prepared for the City to develop a methodology for the baseline assessment of cat’s claw creeper and for monitoring the outcomes of future biological control releases coordinated by the City’s Catchment Management Unit.

Phase 4 

Phase 4 (2015-2016) is currently underway and involves expanding on the actions implemented within phases 1 to 3. In particular, efforts will be focused on expanding the release of the jewel beetle on existing monitoring sites, and continuing to support the Bug on Creepy Creeper program currently located at Country Paradise Parklands.

Engaging the community

The program involves a strong partnership approach with the community and other organisations, and is implemented across the Gold Coast providing a city-wide benefit. Gold Coast Catchment Association has been engaged, in partnership with SEQ Catchments and Queensland Biosecurity, to train local landholders, Landcare and community groups in the rearing, monitoring and releasing of the jewel beetle and tinged bug within sites affected by cat's claw creeper.

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