News Release Header
For Immediate Release:
May 28, 2014
Media Contact:
Edith Torres

Bug vs. Wild: Air Potato Vine-Eating Beetle Student-Run Lab Unveiled

(MIAMI, May 28, 2014) — The only student-run beetle-rearing lab facility in the United States was unveiled today by students and faculty at the TERRA Environmental Research Institute (TERRA), together with Miami-Dade County District 10 Commissioner Javier D. Souto, and representatives from State Farm and Miami-Dade Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces.  The Lilioceris cheni (Lili) will be bred, and later released, to combat the invasive exotic Air Potato vine plaguing parks and neighborhood yards throughout South Florida and the state. The project is made possible by a $31,240 grant from State Farm Youth Advisory Board (YAB) to the Parks Foundation of Miami-Dade. 

“State Farm supports service-learning because it integrates service to the community into classroom curriculum using a hands-on approach to mastering subject material while fostering civic responsibility,” said Jose Soto, State Farm Community Specialist in Miami.  “The State Farm Youth Advisory Board is a prime example of State Farm’s commitment to education, our community and our youth.” 

The USDA Agricultural Research Service, Invasive Plant Research Laboratory (USDA) in Fort Lauderdale, FL provided the training on beetle-rearing techniques and the “Adam” and “Eve” initial starter beetles that began the rearing in the TERRA laboratory.  TERRA will be the only high school in Florida with the capability to be a supplier of the “Lili” beetle to other agencies and private homeowners for use where the Air Potato is also taking over native vegetation. 

“We want to thank State Farm Youth Advisory Board and the Parks Foundation of Miami-Dade for funding this lab that will not only benefit TERRA, its students and this project, but also the community and other agencies in South Florida who will benefit from these beetles,” said Alex Salcedo, Conservation Biology teacher in charge of the bio-control lab project.  "This partnership with Miami-Dade Parks’ Natural Areas Management (NAM), USDA and State Farm will allow my students to engage firsthand in a very important aspect of the conservation and management of our natural areas, which is the use of biological controls in order to mitigate the effects of an invasive species," he added. 

The “Lili” beetle is native to Asia and Africa and was first released in Florida in 2011 by USDA for biological control of the Air Potato.  Longstanding partners for more than 15 years, the USDA and NAM began this joint venture to discover a safe, chemical-free method for eradicating the exotic vine in 2011, when the USDA requested NAM’s help to provide a controlled living preserve, Kendall Indian Hammocks Park, in which to test the impact of the “Lili” beetle on Air Potato.  In Nov. 2011, the first test-release of the beetles to combat the plant inside the park took place, and again in April 2013 with the assistance of TERRA students. Results from these releases are already visually evident at the test sites, with leaves and whole plants clearly showing the effects of the beetles.  In those areas, the leaves look like lace patterns and many of the bulbils have also been affected, slowing the reproduction of the plant. 

“This is a great opportunity for these young scientists to learn first-hand how their work can benefit the environment in which they live,” said Commissioner Souto.  “Thanks to partnerships with companies like State Farm committed to fostering the growth of young people, and to the great work of TERRA, NAM and the USDA, we can protect and restore our precious natural vegetation and public lands.” 

The Air Potato is a serious threat to South Florida’s environment, growing vines that are 30-40 feet long, stifling native plants and destroying landscaping and impacting the natural eco-system.  In South Florida they have been found in various communities in Miami-Dade County including Kendall, Coral Gables, Village of Palmetto Bay, Homestead, South Miami, Florida City, Miami Gardens, North Miami Beach and unincorporated areas of Miami-Dade County. 

“NAM’s participation in this project has been vital,” said Dr. Min Rayamajhi, a plant pathologist with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service’s Invasive Plant Research Unit.  “NAM has provided us with a living laboratory without which this testing would not have been possible, and their bio-agricultural expertise in the removal of invasive non-native plants and bug control has been invaluable.  We are extremely appreciative of their assistance, as the Air Potato situation is urgently in need of a remedy for which currently there is none.”

“NAM is a critical division of the Miami-Dade Parks Department,” said Miami-Dade Parks, Recreation, and Open Spaces Director Jack Kardys.  “This project is just one example of the dedicated and unsung work of these expert biologists that make up our NAM division, maintaining and restoring the natural eco-system of Miami-Dade County and protecting our environmental resources for people, wildlife and nature.” 

About State Farm®

State Farm and its affiliates are the largest provider of car insurance in the U.S. and is a leading insurer in Canada. In addition to providing auto insurance quotes, their 17,800 agents and more than 65,000 employees serve 81 million policies and accounts – more than 79 million auto, home, life and health policies in the United States and Canada, and nearly 2 million bank accounts. Commercial auto insurance, along with coverage for renters, business owners, boats and motorcycles, is also available. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company is the parent of the State Farm family of companies. State Farm is ranked No. 43 on the Fortune 500 list of largest companies. For more information, please visit or in Canada

About TERRA Environmental Research Institute

Affectionately known as the “Green School,” TERRA Environmental Research Institute is truly an extraordinary school. Housed in a brand new Gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-certified building, our classrooms are equipped with the latest technological equipment such as multiple computer labs, Promethean boards, classroom surround sound systems, greenhouses, and state-of-the-art research laboratories. Inspired by global environmental conservation initiatives and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) National programs, TERRA opened its doors in the fall of 2009 and was established in the community as a sanctuary of academic excellence and environmental stewardship. Our students are taught by highly trained and committed teachers who are well-versed in concerns that currently plague our planet. TERRA’s students lead advanced scientific research projects in using multidisciplinary approaches and establishing connections between their research and the community through complex active service learning. 

About Miami-Dade Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department

Nationally accredited, a three-time winner of the NRPA National Gold Medal Award, winner of the 2013 Florida Governor’s Sustained Excellence Award and the 2009 Florida Governor’s Sterling Award for excellence in management and operations, Miami-Dade County Parks is the third largest county park system in the United States, consisting of 260 parks and 12,825 acres of land.  It is one of the most unique park and recreation systems in the world.  Made up of more than just playgrounds and athletic fields, it also comprises out-of-school, sports-development, and summer-camp programs; programs for seniors and people with disabilities; educational nature centers and nature preserves; environmental restoration efforts; arts and culture programs and events; the renowned Zoo Miami and the Deering Estate at Cutler; the Crandon Tennis Center, home of the Sony Open; golf courses; beaches; marinas; campgrounds; pools; and more.  For information about Miami-Dade County Parks call 3-1-1, or visit

About The Parks Foundation of Miami-Dade

The Parks Foundation of Miami-Dade is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization that supports the Miami-Dade Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department’s effort to further develop Miami-Dade County’s world-class parks system for residents and visitors.  Its mission is to create a healthier, more livable and sustainable Miami community by ensuring the implementation of the Parks Open Space Master Plan and the development of year-round park and recreation programs for local children, adults and people with disabilities.  For more information on the Parks Foundation, please visit