Scientists and farmers in Ottawa are trying to tackle an invasive insect that is decimating leek, onion and garlic crops in the region.

The bugs, called leek moths, were first found in the Ottawa area twenty years ago. It’s believed they were brought from Europe. The insects are now spreading through Ontario, Quebec, the Maritimes and upper New York State.

They are causing major headaches for some local farmers, including David McCreery, who grows organic garlic on his farm southwest of Ottawa.

“It’s a serious problem, “McCreery said. “A few years ago, I had as much as fourty percent damage to the point where I said I just can’t grow this crop anymore.”

Scientists with Agriculture Canada are experimenting with an enemy for the leek moth, a parasitic wasp they’ve brought from Europe.

“Don’t be afraid of the word wasp because we associate that with yellow jackets and larger things that may sting humans,” said Dr. Peter Mason, a research scientist with Agriculture Canada.

The parasitic wasps have been brought to a lab at Ottawa’s experimental farm.

They are strictly interested in leek moths, not humans, thanks to biological control.

“We conduct studies to make sure this is very safe, “Mason said. “In other words, that it attacks only the species that we intend it to attack.”

Five garlic farms in the Ottawa area are part of a study testing the effectiveness of the ‘enemy’ moths on the leek moths. 

The wasps have been introduced to the farms in the hopes they can multiply quickly enough to control the leak moth infestation.

If they are successful, they’ll be introduced in other parts of Canada.

“We know it’s effective,” said McCreery.  “The issue is the leek moth has had a head start and there are just a few wasps.”

With files from CTV’s Joanne Schnurr