Another (deceptively attractive) palm pest arrives in the Algarve

As if the Algarve’s palm trees were not already under enough pressure, it seems that one more pest has arrived here to add to their troubles.

Tourist Kevin Rush reported to the Algarve Wildlife website that he had photographed two impressively large day-flying moths on a cliff-top at Burgau, just outside Luz, and needed help with the identification. We passed the pictures on to Clive Viney, co-author of the Algarve’s wildlife bible Algarve Wildlife – the natural year.

Clive writes: “Neither my extensive library nor the internet could provide an answer. Accordingly, I asked two friends who are keen lepidopterists for help. Richard Stott quickly came back with the answer that they were Palm Moths Paysandisa archon and that there were one or two recent records from the UK. Peter Garland added that the moth is also known as the Surreptitious and said that it was a South American species.”

Further research was now easy. British Moths second edition (2015) by Chris Manley reports that the species was accidentally imported to Europe in ornamental palms. Although superficially resembling a hawkmoth, it is unrelated. It has an impressive wingspan of 90-110mm and, unusually for a moth, has butterfly-like clubbed antennae. The white maggot-like larva bore large holes in the trunks and stems of palms.

According to the comprehensive CABI (Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience) 2017 website, which uses the common name South American Palm Borer, this species is now resident in France and spreading rapidly into Italy and Spain where the larvae are doing great damage to palm trees, even killing them. According to that website, this is the first record for Portugal. As such, it should be reported to CABI.

Algarve’s ancient palms, which are such a familiar feature of our townscapes have already suffered terribly from an infestation of the Red Palm Weevil Rhynchophorus ferrugineus. Now the Algarve will have to brace itself for another invader, the deceptively attractive South American Palm Borer.