Inspectors from the Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) found a brightly coloured and unexpected passenger on a flight from India which arrived into Stansted Airport last week.
FERA’s Pest Identification Team identified the beautiful stowaway as a Painted Grasshopper (Poekilocerus pictus) and confirmed that the uninvited guest is the first of its kind to reach British soils.
FERA entomologist and invertebrate curator Sharon Reid, who identified the Painted Grasshopper, said: “It is not unusual for FERA’s inspectors to find stray insects in aeroplane holds, but this is the first alive and well Painted Grasshopper we have seen. However, a single insect like this wouldn’t be able to reproduce, and is unlikely to survive our UK climate.”
This is not always the case, however, as many other imported insects could cause an outbreak which could potentially ruin UK crops or horticultural plants. FERA’s plant health and seed inspectors are a key part of the UK’s frontline defences, checking imports at our ports and airports.
This colourful creature’s six centimetre long body looks like it could be a plastic model kit, hand painted in the blue and yellow colours of Shrewsbury Town F.C. In fact, these bright colours serve a valuable purpose, to warn birds and other predators (including humans) not to eat them, as they are distasteful.
FERA Entomologist Chris Malumphy said: “The visitor has a voracious appetite and rapidly ate its way through a cabbage plant in the quarantine lab. Grasshoppers can consume green forage roughly eight times as fast as cattle in proportion to their weight.
“This insect is an economic pest in Pakistan and India where it is reported damaging a number of food plants including aubergine, citrus, cucurbits, potatoes and tomatoes, though its primary host is milkweed (Calotrops procera).”
Suspected sightings of non-native plant pests should be reported to your local FERA plant health and seeds inspector or PHSI main office at FERA, Sand Hutton, York. Tel: 01904 465625.