An invasive species of moth no larger than an eyelash and known as a tomato leafminer (Tuta absoluta) is threatening tomato crops worldwide, affecting many areas of South America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and India. Virginia Tech researchers have issued recommendations on how to prevent this destructive insect from making its way to the United States.

"Our domestic tomato industry could be severely affected," Devaiah Muruvanda, senior risk manager for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), said in a news release. "The U.S. is taking it so seriously, we haven't even given permits to do research, in order to prevent any possibility of the insect's escape."

"When the tomato leafminer strikes, it can cause between 80 and 100 percent crop loss unless proper management technologies are adopted," Muni Muniappan, an entomologist and director of the Virginia Tech-led Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab, said in a statement. "The moth can't be completely eradicated. The best you can do is control it."

Approximately 163 million tons of tomatoes are produced annually, and global crops cover a total of 10 million acres, Muniappan explained. In 2011 alone, the tomato leafminer destroyed 40 percent of the world's crops. 

Among the team's recommendations was increasing education, raising public awareness, quarantine measures, monitoring programs, and the use of natural predators to prevent Tuta absoluta from spreading farther. 

Preventing this invasive moth from infesting crops in the U.S. is particularly important since the tomato industry accounts for more than $2 billion of the country's revenue, according to the USDA.

The study was recently presented at the International Plant Protection Congress meeting this past August.  

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