Gobbling up goatheads
Umatilla man raises critters that love to eat puncture vine
By Kathleen Gilstrap
Herald Oregon bureau
UMATILLA --- Armed with just a tiny, pale weevil, Roak TenEyck is laying siege to a tenacious enemy.
His foe? Puncture vine, or goatheads, those ubiquitous weeds whose seeds turn into nasty needles that can pierce a bare foot or flatten a bike tire.
In a field near his house in Umatilla, TenEyck knelt down and began pulling goathead seeds off the plants and opening them up. Inside were critters that looked like worms but were actually puncture vine seed weevils.
The weevils thrive on the sharp seeds, eating nothing else, TenEyck said.
"Every seed a weevil eats is a puncture vine that can't sprout," he said. TenEyck, 38, heard about the weevils when he worked for an agricultural company and decided to buy some.
He introduced them into his yard seven years ago.
And they spread.
"I can find them all over town now," he said. TenEyck said the weevils were approved for use in the United States in the 1960s.
The bugs are used mostly by home-owners in states like Texas and California. But winters in Washington and Oregon were considered too cold for the weevils to survive.
But recent mild winters have given the weevils a chance to survive and thrive, said Marc Stairet, coordinator of the Benton County Noxious Weed Control Board. Stairet said the weevils have been in use in the United States since about 1985, and he said they're very effective.
Puncture vine is not native to North America, Stairet said, but comes from Mediterranean countries. It is not considered a noxious weed, but it is a problem, he said.
The seeds live three to five years. Many people control the weeds by pulling them.
"If you're diligent you can get rid of them in five years," Stairet said.
TenEyck said he did some research and found that the weevil was tested in Oregon during some of the region's coldest winters.
His weevils have over-wintered well so far and hopefully have acclimated so they would
Roak TenEyck sports a T-shirt and cap advertising his business. He sells weevils that kill puncture vine.
survive a really cold winter, he said.
The female weevil chews a small hole in the side of the goathead seed, lays an egg inside and seals the hole with fecal matter. Newly hatched weevils live inside the seed. Asthey feed, they hollow out the seed.
"The later it gets in the season, the more effective they are," TenEyck said.
TenEyck started a business named --- IRV Goatheads --- selling the weevils two years ago. He sells the bugs from his home and over his Website, ww.goatheads.com
"When I put this together, it wasn't to make money, it was to get rid of puncture vine," TenEyck said.
He buys the weevils from a California company.
They're not cheap. For $75, customers get 250 weevils, a combination of seed weevils and a close relative that eats the stem of the puncture vine.
TenEyck said the seed weevil appears to do the most damage. And fighting back against the noxious weed is satisfying.
"I've been battling this stuff for as long as I can remember, picking them out of bicycle tires, getting in trouble for tracking them into the house," he said
TenEyck, who also grows wine grapes, has a wife, Susan, and four kids who range in age from 5 to 15. Checking up on the weevils when they take a walk is common. "Whenever we walk down to the store we're always digging the puncture vine. People probably think we're crazy," he said. For more information, call
Reporter Kathleen Gilstrap can be reached at the Herald Oregon bureau at 541-567-4459 or via
e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.