Friday, September 4, 2009

Asian citrus psyllids pop up in three new locations

Issue Date: September 2, 2009

By Ron Miller

A pest considered a dangerous threat to California citrus groves has been detected in three new locations, leading to eradication programs in two locations and intensified trapping in another.

And, once again, a sniffer dog has been credited with finding the insects before they could move into the environment.

During the past week, the California Department of Food and Agriculture announced that infestations of the Asian citrus psyllid had been found in Orange County and in the Echo Park area of Los Angeles County. In addition, insects were discovered inside a package at a shipping terminal in Sacramento.

Thus far, the insects found in California have been free of Huanglongbing—also known as citrus greening—a disease that destroys citrus trees and that the Asian citrus psyllid is known to spread. There is no cure for the malady, which has caused billions of dollars in damage to Florida citrus trees.

Authorities say the psyllids found in Orange and Los Angeles counties are thought to have spread from existing infestations in Mexico and across the border in San Diego and Imperial counties.

The Asian citrus psyllid is not a strong flying insect. However, it can hitchhike on plant material or on vehicles.

Its life cycle is such that more will be hatching this month. The psyllid's life cycle is from 15 to 47 days, depending on the season. Females can lay more than 800 eggs in their lives.

Eradication work has begun in the infested regions of Orange and Los Angeles counties.

On Friday, the California Department of Food and Agriculture placed all of Orange County under quarantine, regulating the movement of citrus and closely related plants. A quarantine in the Echo Park region of Los Angeles County remains in the planning stage. CDFA is asking residents in those regions not to move backyard fruit from their properties.

In Sacramento, a Labrador retriever named Tassie, trained to sniff psyllids and other insects, found the package containing the insects at a Federal Express terminal. There were more than 100 adults and nymphs in a package from Texas that contained a mechanical part and curry leaves.

The package was sent by a Texas resident to his nephew in Sacramento. The agricultural commissioner's office said the uncle added the curry leaves as a surprise for his nephew and apparently did not notice that the leaves contained eggs or insects.

It is believed that the insects have been contained in the terminal and did not reach the environment. However, inspectors have installed traps around the location to which the package was addressed. Tests have not concluded whether the insects were carrying citrus greening disease.

Sacramento County Agricultural Commissioner Frank Carl said his inspectors made certain none got out.

Carl said additional dogs are being trained to check packages for insects. He said Tassie works in other counties, such as San Joaquin and Yolo. He said he hopes that when additional dogs are available, Sacramento will be able to have one full time because there are many places in the county where packages or luggage arrive from other states or nations.

A similar find of Asian citrus psyllids in a Fresno warehouse last month—detected by a different sniffer dog—caused inspectors there to install traps to check for additional psyllids. Deputy Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner Tye Hafner said no additional psyllids have been found there, so far. He added the traps will remain in place and inspectors hope the traps remain empty of Asian citrus psyllids.

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