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State quarantines St. Pete to stop exotic fruit flies

Mark Parker

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Image: Jason Richard/Unsplash.

Nearly the entirety of St. Petersburg and Pinellas Park is under a state-mandated fresh fruit and vegetable quarantine zone due to the recent discovery of Oriental fruit flies.

According to the Florida Department of Agriculture, Bactrocera dorsalis is one of the most harmful exotic fruit flies as it infests over 430 different fruits, vegetables and nuts by laying eggs in the hosts, making them unmarketable. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture monitor over 56,000 fruit fly traps statewide as an early detection network against the invasive species.

A previous detection in Florida occurred in Seminole County in Aug. 2021, although the last eradication program took place in Miami-Dade County from June to Oct. 2018.

Holly Hughes, public information specialist for FDACS plant industry division, told the Catalyst the flies are not harmful to humans. However, residents risk biting into an egg-infested fruit or vegetable, and the pests wreak havoc on the agricultural industry.

“The quarantine in place prevents the movement of any host materials from spreading flies or larva,” said Hughes. “Residents are asked to not move any produce off their properties and to pick up any fallen produce, double bag it in plastic, tie the bag and dispose of it with household garbage.”

Hughes stressed that residents should not dispose of produce with yard waste.

According to FDACS,  the department first captured two male Oriental fruit flies in a methyl eugenol-baited detection trap in St. Petersburg on May 17. The agency then intensified its delimitation efforts over 80-square miles surrounding the area, catching two additional males just three miles away on June 14 and 16.

Most concerning is a mated female caught on June 22.

FDACS issued the quarantine notice on June 23, and Hughes said it would last through the third life cycle – approximately 90 days – of the last detected fly.

The extensive fruit and vegetable quarantine zone. According to FDACS, the last eradication program occurred in Miami-Dade County from June to October 2018. Screengrab.

Treatment to eradicate the flies continues within a 1.5-square mile area around the detection sites, using a bait and insecticide mixture to kill the pests. The agency applies weekly treatments to upper portions of utility poles and trees – out of the reach of people and pets. FDACS did not provide exact locations.

Other actions include a “soil drench” under host trees with known or suspected mated females and fruit removal. FDACS applies the treatments for two life cycles, or about 60 days, after the last detection.

While Oriental fruit flies can devastate agricultural efforts, Hughes noted the quarantine zone “is predominantly residential, so commercial production is not impacted.”

However, limiting the spread is critical, and discerning the exotic flies from native species is difficult. That is why FDACS instituted the quarantine and encourages residents to safely discard any fallen fruits or vegetables.

“Exotic fruit flies are very difficult for a non-expert to recognize,” said Hughes. “Identification must be confirmed by an expert.”

The quarantine zone extends north to south from 150th Avenue – near the St. Pete Clearwater International Airport – to Gulfport Boulevard and east to west from 1st Street to Seminole Boulevard.

Hughes said residents in the quarantine area that suspect they have fruits or vegetables infested with Oriental fruit flies due to drops or deterioration should call the FDACS helpline at 1-888-397-1517.

For more information, visit the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service’s website here.

 

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