Australia: Armed with a bright green beetle, these Darwin children are weeding out a serious ecological threat

Armed with a bright green beetle, these Darwin children are weeding out a serious ecological threat

Budding young entrepreneurs Jack Barker and his sister Kelly have come up with a unique plan to tackle the spread of one of northern Australia’s most serious weeds — and make some money while doing it.

During the school holidays, the pair from Darwin’s rural area collected a bright green beetle that can be found lurking along the stems of the spinyhead sida, a weed introduced into Australia last century.

«I have always been dreaming of starting my own business,» Jack, 12 years old, said.

«I didn’t know that these bugs were worth $2 each.»

Jack and his 10 year-old sister have sold 150 beetles to neighbouring land owners who are battling to control the 1.5 metre sida plants, which grow rapidly during the Top End wet season.

The beetle is a native of north America called Calligrapha.

Experts from the CSIRO and NT government agencies discovered in the 1980s it was the weapon they needed to contain the spread of sida in the Territory.

Since 1989, the beetle has been released in hundreds of locations across the Top End under a biological control program.

The sida does not have a natural predator and it tends to quickly dominate native plants, preventing livestock, which do not eat it, from grazing on grass.

Jack Barker and beetle

Chinese prospectors who used its tough stems to make brooms are thought to have brought it to the Territory in the early 1900s.

Today, the invasive plant is common in the Darwin, Katherine, Gulf and Victoria River regions.

«Anywhere where you have cattle or horses, it’s really common,» Michelle Franklin from the NT government’s weed management branch said.

Jack said he and Kelly put their collected beetles in 50-batch containers and sold them for $100.

He said the beetles quickly got to work once they were released.

«After a few weeks, you can actually see the stick of the old sida plant,» he said.

Jack Barker and Sally Isberg

Jack Barker, pictured with his mother Sally Isberg, shows some sida that Calligrapha beetles have been eating.(ABC News: Peter Lacey


According to the government’s weed management branch, the beetle reduces sida density from 22 plants per square metre to six over a year in some areas.

Jack and Kelly’s mother, Sally Isberg, said she was proud her children were selling and farming beetles and improving the environment.

«We have actually noticed the beetle population completely decimated our sida weeds crop, which means we haven’t had to spray with chemicals and that’s just a fantastic solution,» she said.

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