A tiny pest called the panicle rice mite has been found in the southern United States, including the LSU AgCenter’s Rice Research Station at Crowley, La.

The mite, scientifically called Steneotarsonemus spinki, which requires magnification to be seen, has been detected in rice plants this summer at research facilities in Texas and Puerto Rico. Before 2007, it was found in a greenhouse in Ohio and has been a major problem in rice fields in Central America, South America, the Caribbean and Asia.

David Boethel, LSU AgCenter vice chancellor for research, said the LSU AgCenter is cooperating with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry to determine the extent of the infestation in Louisiana and what can be done to control it.

“This pest has caused significant yield losses in Asia and Central America, so it is paramount that we address this potential problem,” Boethel said. “We don’t have a lot of answers to many of the questions that naturally arise, but we hope to know more soon.”

Because it is smaller than a pinhead, the mite is difficult to detect. It feeds internally on rice leaf sheaths and developing grains.

Natalie Hummel, LSU AgCenter entomologist, said infested plants often also show symptoms of various diseases that afflict rice, such as bacterial panicle blight and sheath rot. In addition, feeding lesions resulting from mite feeding may resemble fungal infestations.

“We are planning meetings with county agents to show them how to identify affected plants so they can help farmers determine if they have the pest in their fields,” Hummel said.

Suspect mites must be sent to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service for a positive identification.

The pest was found in three greenhouses and in nine fields at the Rice Research Station. Boethel said entomologists are researching various control methods and trying to find out how the mite’s spread can be reduced or eliminated.

The AgCenter, USDA and LDAF are surveying area commercial rice fields for the pest.