May 1, 2013
Don’t Bug Out
Keep Unwanted Pests Out of Your Home
The weather is warming, which makes it a perfect time for termite swarming. Swarm Season starts when large numbers of termites leave their colonies in search of new nesting sites, usually March through May, depending on the species. Termites are present throughout Florida. Chances are, anywhere you stand, there are termites nearby.
Conehead termites are a particularly invasive species of termite that attack homes and buildings, as well as lumber and wood products and are capable of causing widespread damage. A native to the Caribbean, the conhead termite was first introduced to the U.S. in 2001 and eradicated in 2003. The recently confirmed presence indicates a reemergence. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) deployed incident response crews in Dania Beach this past March in order to eradicate and terminate colonies of Conehead termites that threatened to spread into the surrounding areas.
Though Florida’s climate is particularly conducive to termite infestation, many homes lack any type of termite protection. Regular inspection and prevention practices are essential to protecting homes from termite damage. FDACS urges Florida homeowners to safeguard their home by following these simple steps:
- Divert direct water sources, such as roof downspouts and gutters, away from the structure’s foundation as termites are attracted to moisture.
- Seal cracks and holes to prevent termite entry, including spots where utilities and pipes enter the home.
- Do not stack firewood or lumber next to your home and inspect it carefully prior to bringing it indoors.
- Schedule an annual home inspection by a licensed professional pest control company.
- Obtain a termite protection contract and renew it annually.
While termites swarm in the spring, bed bugs can settle into homes anytime throughout the year. FDACS has joined forces with various state, local and private entities to promote public awareness about the prevalence of bed bugs and inform consumers on how to protect themselves from bed bug infestations. Adult bed bugs are normally the size of an apple seed while immature ones are much smaller. Bed bugs can be found in the seams of bedding and sofas, backpacks, behind headboards, dressers and various other places. FDACS recommends that consumers take the following steps to prevent, detect and remove bed bugs:
- Remove all clutter from your home, which makes finding bed bugs easier.
- Closely inspect any second-hand furniture for bed bugs before you bring it into your residence.
- At home and when on travel, look for signs that bedbugs may be present, such as small brownish-red to purple spotting on bedding, mattresses, furniture and luggage.
- If your home is infested, follow pesticide label guidelines when using registered pesticides or select a licensed pest control company that has the experience and understanding necessary to manage bed bugs.
FDACS regulates and licenses pest control companies and conducts regular inspections to ensure that businesses are in compliance with the rules and regulations that govern pesticides and pest control. To verify if a pest control company is licensed or to file a complaint, call 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352), (850)-617-7997 or visit www.flaes.org.
If you are a cinema fan in Miami-Dade County, you may get a bonus beginning Friday when you visit a local movie theater — a close-up and scary view of the giant African land snail, or GALS, styled after a trailer for a classic 50s-era horror movie. Giant African land snails may be a horror, but they’re not a fantasy. Discovered in Miami-Dade County in the fall of 2011, it has some truly terrifying implications for the South Florida environment. It can grow to eight inches in length (think “rat-sized”), consumes more than 500 types of plant and can carry the rat lungworm, which can cause a form of meningitis in humans. It even eats stucco on buildings, while leaving a nasty snail-trail.
Beginning April 26, the dramatic public service announcements will precede feature movies at Miami Dolphin 19 with IMAX, Miami Kendall Village Stadium 16, Miami Lakes 17 Cinemas and Miami Movies at the Falls 12. Similar ads appeared in those theaters last summer.
You can view the trailer here.
Inspectors continue to respond to reports from the public, collecting the snails and applying bait in areas where snails are detected. Many of the captures in the 20 core areas resulted from calls made by the public to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Division of Plant Industry (FDACS/DPI) Helpline, 1-888-397-1517. Core areas consist of properties within a one-half mile radius of a positive giant African land snail find.
Public awareness increasing, world-wide
During the past two weeks the giant African land snail has been the subject of intense, world-wide media coverage. The coverage followed a symposium held in Gainesville, Fla. where agriculture officials, scientists and other experts reviewed progress toward eradication of the GALS and considered ways the eradication campaign could be made even more effective.
After the story was picked up by Reuters, the snail and the efforts to eradicate it from Miami-Dade County was reported on in weekly news magazines, by television and radio stations, by national and international networks and, of course, daily newspapers. CBS This Morning aired this story, just this week. The coverage also gave a shot in the arm to FDACS/DPI’s social media efforts. For example, in just about 48 hours, visitors followed links from external media leading to about 80,000 additional views of DPI’s YouTube GALS videos.
The movie theater ads are part of a comprehensive community outreach campaign, which also includes billboards, bus signs, bus benches, newspaper advertisements and continuing media coverage in Miami-Dade.
We welcome your comments on the GALS effort, as well as any suggestions you might have for further public outreach. If you have questions, please call the Helpline, 1-888-397-1517.
Will your kids be hunting for Easter eggs this weekend?
We hope so.
In future years, you’ll cherish memories of coloring and decorating the eggs, playing Bunny as you hide them and then watching the kids romp to the hunt. Be sure to take some photos for the family album.
In Miami-Dade, watch for giant African land snails
If you live in the Miami-Dade area, though, you will want to take some precautions. The giant African land snail (or GALS) may intrude on your hunt. They grow up to eight inches long, eat at least 500 different types of plants and can damage buildings. It can also pose a serious health risk to humans because it can harbor the microscopic rat lungworm, which can transmit a form of meningitis to humans.
You don’t want GALS showing up at your party. If it does, you and your children need to be able to recognize it and take precautions as you report it to our Helpline, 1-888-397-1517. This sheet will help you identify the GALS.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Division of Plant Industry and the Dade County school system have developed the Junior Detective Program, enlisting properly trained fourth grade students and their parents in a program to look for and report the GALS.
If you are a parent in Miami-Dade county, we suggest you watch the short video on this page, with your children. It was developed for the Junior Detective Program and it shows what GALS look like, where to look for them and what to do once they are found. If you and your fourth grader are interested in participating in the Junior Detective Program, contact your child’s science teacher.
Because of the meningitis risk, no one – adult or child – should touch the snail.
Report every find to the Helpline: 1-888-397-1517. Our inspectors will respond and collect the snails.
As almond trees begin to blossom in California’s San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys, Florida bee keepers loaded semi-trailers with bee colonies to help pollinate the 800,000 acres of groves, according to David Westervelt, Apiary Inspection assistant chief of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Division of Plant Industry (FDACS-DPI).
“California has only 500,000 colonies to pollinate almonds,” Westervelt said. “Florida beekeepers are sending 90,000 to 100,000 colonies. But it’s estimated about 1.6 million colonies are needed.” FDACS-DPI inspectors are certifying each truckload to meet California requirements. The possibility of transporting fire ants is a major concern.
California almond producers have paid Florida bee keepers for pollination services in previous years. This year the need has become more acute due to losses of bees over the winter. Some California bee keepers reported 90-100 percent of their colonies had died.
“Last year was not a good year for honey production in the United States,” said Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, “and it could be one of the worst honey production years in the history of nation, although it’s been pretty rough in some of the previous years. Usually when we’re short of nectar, we’re short on pollen, and honey bees need both. So, 2012 was a bad year for bee nutrition.”
Growers pay well — an average of $150 but up to $220 per colony for pollination, but a good nut set also depends on mild, warm temperatures and relatively high humidity. By February 14 the average almond orchard in California is in full bloom, but some bloom earlier or later, depending on the cultivar and the weather. An almond orchard blooms for about two weeks,
After completing their pollination duties in California around March 15, most of the bees will return to Florida where their services are required by blueberry producers and other growers.
“Once they’ve returned to Florida, the bee keepers will begin moving their colonies steadily north as the weather gets warmer, pollinating crops along the way,” Westervelt said. “Florida bee keepers make a great contribution to U.S. agriculture, but the overall problem is, there just aren’t enough bees anywhere in the country.”
Colony collapse disorder (CCD), a mysterious malady that was first noticed in the winter of 2006, has exacerbated the problem by killing off one-third of the nation’s bee population each year. Some bee keepers in California reported losses of 90 to 100 percent this winter.
February 7, 2013
Our Helpline operators reported an uptick in calls regarding the giant African land snail in Miami-Dade County as we began another flight in our mass-media outreach campaign. We’re using billboards, radio spots and ads on Comcast cable channels , as well as social media and personal contact, to encourage the public to watch for and report the giant snails to the Helpline, 1-888-397-1517.
On Thursday, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam and his fellow cabinet members “flipped the switch” to illuminate the midway at the 109th annual Florida State Fair. This year’s fair theme, “Florida: 500 Years In the Making,” recognizes the statewide, Viva Florida 500 commemoration of Florida’s rich heritage and diverse cultural history since Ponce de Leon landed here in April 1513.. through Feb. 18, the fair showcases new and unique agricultural and cultural exhibits such as the new “Discovery Center,” and a traveling history exhibit hosted by FDACS. DPI’s entomologists are hosting an exhibit including spiders, bees and other critters in the Ag Hall of Fame building.
Speaking of the Viva Florida 500 Celebration, our blog series, “Five Hundred Years of Florida Flora Firsts: How Plants have Shaped Florida’s History” featured video of a panel discussion hosted by UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, moderated by Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. This was the first of a series of events aimed at educating people about the important role agriculture played in Florida’s history and will play in its future. You can check out our blog series to date here.
We posted some other interesting scoops while trolling social media this week, among them:
- the naming of a new moth species for the CAPS (Cooperative Agricultural Pest Survey) program, Sinoe capsana. The species name (“capsana”) was created by Sangmi Lee and Julieta Brambila to honor the early detection efforts of the Florida CAPS team, led by Dr. Leroy Whilby.
- an ongoing “travelblogue” by DPI Entomologist Dr. Gary Steck, as he and co-workers Bruce Sutton and Erick Rodriguez hunt exotic fruit flies in the Amazon Basin of Peru, the first part of a series of blogs we’ve dubbed “DPI Around the World.”
- the Florida Strawberry Festival. It opened Feb. 8 and runs through March 10.
- this year’s Superbowl fans consumed enough to fill a football field, end zone to end zone, 30 feet high, equal to about 5 percent of all avocadoes that were consumed in all of 2012. (Source: shape.com). Which reminds us, one of our big challenge in 2013 is fighting laurel wilt disease to Save the Guac and make sure there are plenty of Florida avocadoes to fuel Superbowl parties next year.
- our office tarantula, Twiggy, is with the DPI entomology team at the Florida State Fair. If you visit, look for the little gal. The office just isn’t the same without her.
February 4, 2013
Here is a “quick-and-dirty” screen shot of the electronic billboard at Palmetto Expressway and NW. 103rd Street in Hialeah as, at the stroke of midnight Nov. 4, it began flashing our message in support of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ campaign to eradicate the giant African Land Snail from Miami (see a clean view of the board’s content, below). Static billboards are also up at Highway 1 and SW 248th St. and at Palmetto Expressway and NW South River Drive.
We are also sponsoring radio, cable television and newspaper ads in the Miami-Dade market. The campaign urges residents to watch for the snails and report sightings to the FDACS/DPI Helpline, 1-888-397-1517. Radio spots are running on WIOD AM/FM and Spanish language WMGE-FM. Cable TV ads are running on selected cable channels (English and Spanish) on the Comcast cable system. Our staff members continue to make presentations at community events throughout the region, encouraging the public to “Watch for It! Report It!”
The snail is a slimy,voracious agricultural and urban plant pest. It feeds on more than 500 species of plants and extracts calcium from concrete on the sides of houses. It can grow up to eight inches in length and can live for nine years. Adults typically lay up to 1,200 eggs annually, so populations can quickly grow to the tens of thousands.
Scientists from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Division of Plant Industry have confirmed some specimens captured in Miami carried the rat lungworm parasite. This parasite can cause a form of meningitis in humans. Members of the public dealing with a suspect snail should avoid touching it. A list of Frequently Asked Questions with answers is available here.
To date our teams have collected more than 110,000 snails since the eradication program began in September 2011.
Remember: Look for It. Report It.
FDACS/DPI Helpline, 1-888-397-1517.
January 31, 2013
The air potato, Dioscorea bulbifera, is one of the most aggressive invasive plants in Florida. Chemical control is difficult. Many Florida communities take a hands-on approach to eliminating the vine, which can grow eight inches a day and reach lengths in excess of 70 feet. Alachua County, for example, just completed its 14th annual Air Potato Round-Up, where volunteers collected literally tons of plants and tubers.
Current air potato management practices are costly, time consuming, temporary, and have negative effects on surrounding vegetation and organisms. Now there is a highly effective biological control alternative in the toolkit.
One reason the air potato has been able to spread from Pensacola to Miami since its introduction into the state in 1905 is that it has no natural enemies – until now. Fortunately, a leaf-eating beetle exists whose sole purpose in life is to find and feed on D. bulbifera.
The air potato beetle, Instar Lilioceris cheni, is native to tropical and subtropical Asia. It is host-specific, attacking only D. bulbifera. Both larvae and adults feed voraciously on air potato leaf tissue. A single individual is capable of consuming approximately 30 square meters – about the size of an average master bedroom in the U.S. — in its lifetime.
The beetle is now being reared and released throughout Florida through the air potato biological control program, a collaborative project between the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Division of Plant Industry and the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service Invasive Plant Research Laboratory. The beetles are reared at DPI facilities in Gainesville and Ft. Pierce and at a USDA/ARS facility in Ft. Lauderdale.
Beetle releases began in August of 2012. Scientists chose several large air potato infestations in city, state and national parks for the initial release and research sites. Sites are located in Gainesville, Tampa, Ft. Pierce, Miami and Ft. Lauderdale. Beetle populations have established at all initial sites and are causing varying levels of damage to air potato infestations.
January 29, 2013
The air potato, Dioscorea bulbifera) is an invasive species.
How Invasive is it?
It is so invasive … that some communities stage annual round-ups where they collect tons of the tubers (bulbils).
It is so invasive … that it has been listed as one of Florida’s most invasive plant species since 1993 and, in 1999, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services placed it on the Florida Noxious Weed List.
It is, in short, among the most aggressive weeds ever introduced into Florida. It was brought to the Americas from Africa during the slave trade and introduced into Florida in 1905. It has spread throughout the state.
The air potato is a twining vine. It grows fast – up to eight inches per day. It can grow 70 feet or more in length. Do the math: it can get that long in less than two weeks! It typically climbs to the tops of trees and utility poles and can overtake native plants.
It gets its name from the aerial tubers (bulbils) which are roundish in shape and actually look like a potato. (Don’t make the mistake of trying to eat them. They are poisonous.) These tubers are the primary way the plants spread. Even tiny bulbils can sprout and form new plants. Bulbils can move in contaminated brush, debris or soil. Mowers and other brush-cutting equipment, birds and other animals may also help spread them. They can also spread via water bodies and floods.
This is one persistent plant — hard to control or get rid of. Chemical control can be effective, but multiple applications are usually required because above-ground bulbils or underground tubers can re-sprout. Many communities in Florida, including Hernando, Alachua and Duval counties, stage air potato roundups. (Gainesville just completed one last weekend.) Volunteers typically collect the tubers, which are then carefully disposed of.
Current air potato management practices are costly, time consuming, temporary, and have negative effects on surrounding vegetation and organisms. Fortunately, there is now a natural alternative to this sweat and toil in the form of a natural enemy, a leaf-eating beetle, Lilioceris cheni, whose sole purpose in life is to find and eat D. bulbifera.
State and federal scientists are rearing and releasing the beetle throughout the state. More about that shortly.
January 23, 2013
Five Hundred Years of Florida Flora Firsts: How Plants have shaped Florida’s History
A friend of ours who is a proud Florida Cracker recently reminded us about coontie, a fascinating native Florida plant that has played an important role in Florida’s history. Coontie has been called a “living fossil.” It is a cycad, a form of plant life that was dominant during the age of the dinosaurs.
Today, coontie is a popular landscape plant as well as an important host to the caterpillars of the rare atala butterfly. Botanists hold various opinions regarding the correct name of the species of coontie native to Florida, but Zamia pumila is the botanical name used in the nursery trade.
Here’s why it is important to Florida’s history: It played a prominent role in the diets of native Indians and, later, the Seminoles and settlers who succeeded them. This in spite of the fact that, until it is processed, it contains a deadly poison.
Well before the arrival of Ponce de Leon to Florida’s shores in 1513, native Indians had named the plant (“kunti”) and were pulverizing its underground stems (caudices), then washing away the water-soluble toxin cycasin, to produce flour for bread. Later, the Seminole Indians learned the process from the natives, and around 1825 passed the practice on to early settlers.
All of that harvesting and processing took its toll. Once commonly found in the wild, coontie is now listed as a Commercially Exploited Plant [(FDACS/DPI rule 5B-40.0055 (C)]. That prohibits its collection from the wild without a permit.
Coontie actually looks like a small fern or palm. It typically grows to 1-3 feet, although there are plants up to five feet in the Ocala National Forest. Leaves can be up to three feet in length and have slender leaflets, 3-6 inches long. Both male and female plants produce cones, which mature and fall apart, revealing, in the cones of the female plant, individual seeds covered in a fleshy orange skin.
To learn more about Coontie, see Fact Sheet ENH 117 by Daniel F. Culbert. (Publication of Environmental Horticulture Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original publication date, October 1995. Revised March 2010).
During 2013, this blog will review plants that, for better or worse, have helped form the history of our state. We will be drawing on expertise of our DPI scientists and we invite everyone to participate. There are fascinating stories to be told, and we will welcome your questions and comments.
January 16, 2013
On New Year’s Eve 2012 a large illuminated orange descending on the side of Miami’s Hotel InterContinenal marked the beginning of the State of Florida’s observance of the 500-year anniversary of the landing of Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon on Florida’s east coast. The New Year’s celebration was dubbed “La Gran Naranja,” or the “Big Orange” drop.
The word naranja comes from the sweet Valencia orange the Spanish introduced to America. The orange, now emblematic of the Sunshine State and our official state fruit, was one of the early non-native plants introduced into Florida.
In the five centuries since Ponce’s storied landing, non-native plant species, perhaps numbering in the thousands, have found their way into Florida. Some, like the orange, were cultivated for food production, others for ornamental, industrial or pharmaceutical purposes. Still other species entered as contaminants in agricultural seeds, in ships’ ballast or in or on vehicles. Researchers introduced others, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not.
The vast majority of these plant species pose no threat to Florida’s natural systems. Farmers, growers and gardeners establish and tend to them – but they are not invasive. They do not spread into areas where they are not wanted, nor do they displace native species. Invasive plants are those that must be controlled or eradicated.
As a regulatory agency of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Division of Plant Industry has as its mission to detect, intercept and control plant and honey bee pests that threaten Florida’s native plant and agricultural resources. Our roots in state government go back more than a century.
Over the course of 2013, this blog will review some of the plants that, for better or worse, have helped form the history of our state. We will be drawing on expertise of our DPI scientists and we invite everyone to participate. There are fascinating stories to be told, and we will welcome your questions and comments.
Coming Next: Meet Florida’s First Farmers