Attack on Fruit Fly Begins

Fruit-fly infected fruit.

The discovery of two oriental fruit flies at separate locations in Laguna Beach prompted state agricultural officials to begin spot spraying trees and posts throughout most of the town this week to eradicate the insect, a threat to the state’s valuable fruit and vegetable crops.

The first fly was discovered near the intersection of Cress Street and Temple Terrace, and the second fly was located somewhere between Cerritos Drive and Terrace Way.

The treatment area will encompass 7.5 square-miles surrounding the sites where the insects were trapped, bordered by Beverly Street to the north, the Pacific Ocean to the west, Country Club Road to the south, and Aliso Water District Road and Lower Wood Canyon to the west.

“Right now there is not a quarantine in place,” said CDFA’s public affairs spokesperson Steve Lyle, who explained that eight specimens would need to be found in an area to trigger a quarantine. That scenario would restrict residents and commercial landscapers from removing garden clippings and backyard crops from the area. Agriculture officials are hoping early eradication will avoid a quarantine, such as those recently lifted in two other areas in the state afflicted by the same pest.

The CDFA uses the “male attractant” treatment, which involves squirting a mixture with a “minute amount” of pesticide onto street trees and other surfaces, such as utility poles, about eight to 10 feet above the ground, well beyond the reach of children. The substance attracts male flies that perish after contact.

The procedure to date has always worked. “We have never failed to eradicate an oriental fruit fly infestation in California,” said Lyle. Following Thursday’s treatment, scheduled to begin at around 6 a.m. and be completed by 9 or 9:30 a.m., CDFA will return to perform the treatment and monitor the situation about five more times at two-week intervals, he said.

The Oriental fruit fly targets over 230 fruit, vegetable and plant varieties. The female lays her eggs inside ripening fruit. They then hatch into maggots that tunnel through the flesh, rendering it inedible and un-marketable. Since most harmful exotic insects are discovered in urban and suburban communities, experts believe they come in as “hitchhikers” on fruits and vegetables brought back illegally by travelers from infested areas around the world.

Larger than a housefly, the Oriental fruit fly, bactrocera dorsalis, generally has a bright yellow body color and dark markings on the abdomen that often form a “T” shape. The wings are clear. It is widespread through much of the mainland of southern Asia and on neighboring islands. In Hawaii, its first recorded attack took place in 1946 and it now targets nearly every commercial fruit crop there except for pineapples.

Crops threatened by this fly in California include apple, apricot, avocado, bell pepper, fig, grape, grapefruit, lemon, lime, melons, nectarine, orange, peach, pear, persimmon, plum, pomegranate, tangerine, tomato and walnut.

The discovery of the two flies in Laguna Beach came less than a fortnight after two separate quarantines were lifted in other parts of California. A 118-square-mile quarantine that began last fall in Stockton ended last month when county, state and federal officials declared the infestation eradicated, and a similar quarantine covering 75 square miles in Anaheim and parts of Los Angeles County, imposed by state agricultural offices last October, was lifted on June 27.

San Joaquin County Agricultural Commissioner Scott Hudson said that farmers subject to the Stockton quarantine, which restricted the handling and movement of fruit and vegetables from area farms and backyard gardens, lost an estimated $1 million last fall.

For now, officials hope the treatment begun on Thursday will preclude the necessity for a quarantine here.

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