|Originating in southern Asia and Melanesia, where it is a
serious pest of coconuts, this weevil has been advancing westwards very
rapidly since the mid 1980s. It had reached the eastern region of the
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1985 (pers. obs.) and afterwards spread to many
other areas in the Kingdom (Abozuhairah et al. 1996). The pest was first
recorded in the northern United Arab Emirates in 1985, and since then it has
spread to almost the entire U.A.E. (El-Ezaby 1998) and to Oman. In Iran, it
was recorded in Savaran region in 1990 (Faghih 1996). Then it was discovered
in Egypt at the end of November 1992 in El-Hussinia, Sharquiya region (Cox
1993). In 1994, it had been captured in the south of Spain (Barranco et al.
1996) and in 1999 had been found in Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian
Authority Territories (Kehat 1999).
The cause of the high rate of spread of this pest is human intervention,
by transporting infested young or adult date palm trees and offshoots from
contaminated to uninfected areas.
In this article we present the current situation of the red palm weevil
in Spain, Egypt and the Near East, to demonstrate the seriousness of this
pest and the high risk of its arrival in other Mediterranean countries. In
these countries, the two main palm species concerned are Phoenix
dactylifera and P. canariensis, the main crop and ornamental
species in the Mediterranean area, but it could attack some others
ornamental palms (Barranco et al. 2000). Our purpose is to emphasise the
need for urgent and strong prophylactic measures to avoid new catastrophes
and for the reinforcement of co-operative international research against
The red palm weevil is a member of Coleoptera: Curculionidae. The male
and female adults are large reddish brown beetles about 3 cm long and with a
characteristic long curved rostrum; with strong wings, they are capable of
undertaking long flights.
Damage to palms is produced mainly by the larvae. Adult females lay about
200 eggs at the base of young leaves or in wounds to the leaves and trunks;
the grubs feed on the soft fibers and terminal bud tissues. They reach a
size of more than 5 cm before pupation. Except just before pupating, they
move towards the interior of the palm making tunnels and large cavities.
They can be found in any place within the palm, even in the very base of the
trunk where the roots emerge.
Pupation occurs generally outside the trunk, at the base of the palms.
The larva pupates in a cocoon made of brown dried palm fibres.
Overlapping generations with all life stages can be present within the
same palm tree. Generally the adult weevils present in a palm will not move
to another one while they can feed on it.
Usually the damage caused by the larvae is visible only long after
infection, and by the time the first symptoms of the attack appear, they are
so serious that they generally result in the death of the tree. This late
detection of the presence of the weevil constitutes a serious problem in the
fight against the pest and in any attempt to guarantee pest-free status in
adult trees. Despite research carried out so far, no safe techniques for
early detection of the pest have been devised.
In Spain, very soon after the red palm weevil killed the first Phoenix
canariensis in some gardens of Almuñecar, the relevant authorities
initiated various actions to combat the pest.
Intensive chemical treatments have been used to protect the Phoenix
palms and to try to cure affected trees. Despite the difficulty in
operating in the public gardens environment, foliage spraying has been
conducted with various insecticides: Fenitrotion, Clorpirifos, Diazinon or
Metidation. Preventive treatment of all the palms, even healthy ones, has
been repeated once a month outside the tourist season.
Insecticides such as carbaril and imidacloprid have been injected several
times and in various places all around the stems of palms. Simultaneously, a
programme of mass trapping using aggregation pheromone and semi-synthetic
kairomone has been initiated (Esteban-Durán et al. 1998). But despite all
these efforts, more than one thousand Phoenix have been killed. In an
area that extends from Motril to Nerja, in the Mediterranean coast of
Granada and Málaga, the weevil is still present and has spread to villages
close to the initial points of infection.
There is every evidence to suggest that the first weevils were introduced
into Spain from adult palms imported from Egypt. Before the arrival of the
weevil in the south of Spain, Egypt was the westernmost place where the red
palm weevil has been recorded. Furthermore, as the importation of palms from
Egypt was not prohibited, Egypt has been the main source of supply of
ornamental adult Phoenix palms to satisfy the very substantial demand
that exists in all the coastal cities of Spain and, more generally, of
In Egypt itself, the introduction of the red palm weevil was caused by an
importation of offshoots from the United Arab Emirates. At the beginning,
the extension of this pest into Egypt was restricted to a limited number of
locations in two northeastern provinces. In 1995, three years after its
first discovery in Egypt, an Egyptian agriculture official considered that
the red palm weevil had been eradicated (Ferry 1996). Unfortunately, this
announcement was erroneous. In the two provinces where the pest was first
recorded, the red palm weevil continues to infect and kill new date palms
year after year, despite all the efforts developed to combat it.
Various techniques have been used to try to control the red palm weevil
(pheromone traps) and to save infested date palms (chemical control by
pouring pesticides into the trunk and injection of entomopathogenic
nematodes (Shamseldean 1994)). Despite good results of these techniques in
the laboratory, they are not efficient enough in the field to succeed in
eliminating red palm weevil. The reason for this is probably the great
difficulty in reaching all life stages of the weevil inside an adult palm
tree, even with intensive and repeated stem injections or perfusions.
Furthermore, such intensive activity is impossible for economic and
practical reasons in places with a large number of date palms.
In Egypt, as well as in the south of Spain, the elimination of infested
trees has not been applied systematically as soon as the pest were detected.
The possibility of saving these trees and avoiding serious economic
consequences as a result of their elimination, and the practical
difficulties of carrying out this operation have unfortunately limited or
delayed the destruction of infested trees. The affected trees have then
constituted an important focus for further spread of the red palm weevil.
At present the situation in Egypt is very worrying. Although a small
number of date palms are affected, red palm weevils have been recorded in
each of the Delta administrative districts, as well as in some orchards
along the road between Cairo and Alexandria and even in the capital itself.
This extension is certainly partly due to the difficulty of implementing a
ban on the exchange or transplanting of offshoots or ornamental adult palms
as a rigorous prophylactic measure. Although the red palm weevil does not
usually fly very much in the orchards where it is present, it probably flies
to new orchards when, after killing all the existing date palms, it does not
find enough food.
In Israel, early detection of the pest, when the number of affected trees
was still very limited, resulted very quickly in the establishment of a
program of integrated pest management. Substantial financial and human
resources have been dedicated to avoiding the spread of the pest. Each new
affected tree is immediately eliminated. More that 4000 pheromone traps have
been located at a high density in 450 ha date plantations along the Jordan
Valley. The incorporation of the systemic pesticide Confidor in the
irrigation water has also been used. Despite all these efforts, newly
infested trees are still being recorded, three years after the first
detection of the pest, and red palm weevils are still being caught in traps.
Even when important and costly means are dedicated to combat the red
palm weevil, an efficient solution to fight against it when it first arrives
is still missing
However, the main ornamental tall palms planted in the gardens and in the
streets of the Mediterranean coast cities are date palms. Thousands of them
are imported from Egypt each year directly or indirectly into Spain and
other European countries. These palms must have a phytosanitary passport but
in specimens such as adult date palms, a large quantity of hidden insects
and diseases, can evidently remain undetected, even after very careful
phytosanitary scrutiny, and this is, of course, the case red palm weevil
eggs and larvae.
In response to the appearance of the red palm weevil in the south of
Spain, the Spanish government promulgated a decree in 1996 forbidding the
importation of palms from countries where pests of the group of
Rhynchophorus have been recorded. Four years later this decree was
modified, and one of the consequences has been that importation of date
palms from Egypt is no longer illegal. This modification to the decree was
probably made partly because adult date palms were still arriving in Spain
from neighboring countries, with the disappearance of the border controls
between European Union member countries.
The market for adult date palms from Egypt is very lucrative. It also
seems difficult to convince decision-makers and individuals to wait until
specimens grown locally became tall enough for landscaping, instead of
asking for palms from Egypt. For these two reasons, we think that there is a
need for phytosanitary regulations at a European and North African country
level to forbid totally the importation of date palms. Otherwise disasters
such as the one that has occurred in Almuñecar or, worse still, the one that
continues to develop in Egypt, are probable in other places around the
Mediterranean. Such disasters could occur in the coastal cities where
Phoenix palms constitute one of the characteristic landscape elements; from
there, it could extend to the important inland date palm groves of North
Africa. It could be also a catastrophe in Elche where the date grove has
been nominated as a World Heritage Site. We consider also that European
research centers should contribute to help all countries affected by red
palm weevil to find a solution to combat this pest.
ABOZUHAIRAH, R.A., P.S. VIDYASAGAR AND V.A. ABRAHAM. 1996. Integrated
management of red palm weevil, Rhynchophorus ferrugineus in date palm
plantations of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Proceedings of the XX
International Congress of Entomology. Firenze, Italy, August 1996:
BARRANCO, P., J. DE LA PEÑA AND T. CABELLO. 1996. El picudo rojo de las
palmeras, Rhynchophorus ferrugineus (Olivier), nueva plaga en Europa. (Coleoptera,
curculionidae). Phytoma España 76: 36–40.
BARRANCO, P., J. DE LA PEÑA, M.M. MARTIN AND T. CABELLO. 2000. Rango de
hospedantes de Rhynchophorus ferrugineus (Olivier,1790) y diámetro de la
palmera hospedante. (Coloptera, Curculionidae). Boletin de Sanidad Vegetal
Plagas 26: 73–78.
COX, M.L. 1993. Red palm weevil, Rhynchophorus ferrugineus in Egypt. FAO
Plant Protection Bulletin 41 (1): 30–31.
EL EZABY, F.A., O. KHALIFA AND A. EL ASSAL. 1998. Integrated pest
management for the control of red palm weevil Rhynchophorus ferrugineus Oliv.
in The United Arab Emirates, Eastern Region, Al Ain. In RAHMAN-AL AFIFI, M.
A. AND AL-SHERIF AL-BADAWY, A. (Eds) Proceedings of the First International
Conference on Date Palms. Al-Ain, UAE, 8-10 March 1998. Faculty of
Agricultural Sciences, UAE University, pp. 269–281.
ESTEBAN J.R., J.L. YELA, A. JIMÉNEZ AND F. BEITIA. 1998. Biología del
curculiónido ferruginoso de las palmeras Rhynchophorus ferrugineus (Olivier)
en laboratorio y campo: ciclo en cautividad, peculiaridades biológicas en su
zona de introducción en España y métodos biológicos de deteccción y posible
control (Coleoptera: Curculionida: Rhynchophorinae). Boletin de Sanidad
Vegetal Plagas 24: 737–748.
FAGHIH, A.A. 1996. The biology of red palm weevil, Rhynchophorus
ferrugineus Oliv. (Coleopter, Curculionidae) in Savaran region (Sistan
province, Iran). Applied Entomological Phytopathology 63: 16–86.
FERRY, M. 1996. La crise du secteur phoenicicole dans les pays
méditerranéens. Quelles recherches pour y répondre? In: FERRY, M. AND
GREINER D. (Eds) Proceedings of the plenary sessions of the Elche
International Workshop on Date Cultivation in Oasis Agriculture of
Mediterranean Countries. Elche, Spain 25-27 April 1995. Options
GOMEZ VIVES, S. AND M. FERRY. 1999. Attempts at biological control of
date-palm pests recently found in Spain. In: CANARD M. AND BEYSSATARNAOUTY
V. (Eds) Proceedings of the First Regional Symposium for Applied Biological
Control in Mediterranean Countries. Cairo, 25–29 October 1998. Imprimerie
Sacco, Toulouse, France, pp. 121–125.
KEHAT, M. 1999. Threat to Date Palms in Israel, Jordan and the
Palestinian Authority by the Red Palm Weevil, Rhynchophorus ferrugineus.
Phytoparasitica 27: 107–108.
SHAMSELDEAN, M.M. AND M.M. ABD-ELGAWAD. 1994. Laboratory evaluation of
six Egyptian isolates of heterorhabditid nematodes for control of the red
palm weevil. Egyptian Journal of Applied Science 9: 670–679.