State agriculture officials have placed hundreds of insect traps in the Fresno area as they continue their search for a tiny bug that could decimate the San Joaquin Valley’s citrus industry.
The target is the Asian citrus psyllid, an insect that can carry a deadly citrus disease known as Huanglongbing. A single insect was caught in a trap about three weeks ago in a neighborhood near Clinton Avenue and Highway 99.
The find triggered a 97-square-mile quarantine that includes much of Fresno. The protective zone is designed to prevent the spread of the psyllid by limiting movement of citrus out of the area.
At the same time, 483 insect traps have been placed in a nine-square-mile area around the find. As of Friday, no additional insects had been found.
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Les Wright, Fresno County agricultural commissioner, said that along with placing traps, workers have chemically treated about 40 properties in the area where the psyllid was found.
Wright said that the psyllid caught in the trap was not in good enough condition to be tested for the disease.
Officials said they were slightly surprised to find the bug in wintertime. Typically, psyllids are most active during the spring, when citrus trees are flush with new leaf growth.
“These things are not supposed to be moving much right now,” Wright said. “We are all kind of shocked.”
$3 billion value of California citrus industry
$1.3 billion approximate cost of damage done by psyllid to Florida citrus industry
The insect that is about the size of an aphid is a major threat to the state’s $3 billion citrus industry. Trees infected with the disease produce bitter, misshapen fruit and eventually die. Scientists are working on a cure.
Florida’s citrus industry has been devastated by the disease. The tiny pest has caused about $1.3 billion in damage in Florida in recent years.
In California, the bug has been found in numerous citrus-producing regions of the state.
And countywide quarantines have been implemented in Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura counties, with portions of Alameda, Fresno, Kern, Madera, Merced, San Benito, San Francisco, San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Stanislaus counties also under quarantine.
Melissa Cregan, Fresno County deputy agricultural commissioner, reminds residents in Fresno’s quarantine area to not move citrus out of the area. The psyllid travels on stems and leaves.
“Don’t move your fruit, consume it at home,” Cregan said. “Don’t send it home with your mom. That is the message.”
Cregan also strongly recommends people only buy citrus trees from commercial retailers and nurseries and not at swap meets where typically the trees being sold have not been treated or inspected for the disease or insect.
“Right now, our goal is to keep this pest under control until we can come up with a plan to deal with the disease,” Cregan said. “What we don’t want is for this pest to be running rampant through the state.”
Five things you should know about the Asian citrus psyllid
1. The Asian citrus psyllid is roughly one-eighth of an inch long, about the size of an aphid, and has brown mottled wings.
2. The eggs of the psyllid are yellow and are often found on the newest growth, nestled in the crevices of unfolded leaves. Juveniles (nymphs) produce white, waxy tubules and also appear on new growth.
3. Citrus trees should be inspected monthly, especially during periods of active plant growth or “flushing.” Due to the small size of the psyllid, using a magnifying glass or hand lens will make inspection easier.
4. If you think you’ve found the Asian citrus psyllid, act fast. Call the California Department of Food and Agriculture hotline at 800-491-1899, and talk to your local home and garden center for information about products that can help protect your trees.
5. The psyllid feeds on all citrus trees, including orange, lemon, lime, mandarin, pomello, kumquat, grapefruit and tangerine trees. It also feeds on some relatives of citrus, like orange jasmine and curry leaves.
Source: Citrus Pest & Disease Prevention Program