November 14, 2013
Taking it to the Streets
This month, if you live in the Miami area, chances are good you will see or hear one of our reminders to watch for and report giant African land snails. The snails are known to consume more than 500 kinds of plants, as well as stucco and concrete. They also threaten human and animal health, because they are known to harbor the rat lungworm, a microscopic parasite that can cause a form of meningitis in humans and animals that are exposed to the snails’ slime.
- Folks who walk or ride the bus in areas where the snail has been found are seeing signs on bus benches. They look like this:
Scanning the QR code in the lower left corner with your mobile device takes you to our website, where you can learn more about the snail and why the drive to eradicate it remains urgent as the program begins its third year.
In addition to the bus benches, the snail program is being featured on channels on Comcast Cable and in ads on WIOD Radio. There’s also a new billboard is going up on N.E. 54th Street just west of N.E. Second Avenue. That’s near an important core area where thousands of the snails have been collected.
More than 133,000 specimens have been found in Miami-Dade since they were discovered in September 2011, with more than 50 employees from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services dedicated to this eradication effort. Following a recent, encouraging program audit by an international snail expert, state and federal agriculture officials are optimistic the program is on the right track for a successful eradication.
The giant African land snail. Look for it! Report it! Our Helpline number is 1-888-397-1517, and as they say on TV, “Operators are standing by.”
July 29, 2013
Giant African land snails (GALS) were found in Miami-Dade County neighborhoods in September 2011. Since then teams from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Division of Plant Industry (FDACS/DPI) have collected 125,000 of the mollusks. As eradication efforts continue, officials say a significant decline in the snail population shows the program is succeeding. Extensive surveys continue statewide, but the snail has not been found in any other county in Florida. The snails can grow to be eight inches long and attack more than 500 plant species. The snail can also damage structures by consuming stucco to obtain calcium to build its shell. Below are key numbers related to the snail eradication program.
9/8/11: Date the giant African land snail was discovered in Miami
500: Number of agricultural crops known to be consumed by the snail
8” x 4”: Maximum size attained by individuals of the species
Nine: Maximum years in life span of individuals
1,200: Number of eggs an adult can lay in one year
125,000+: Number of GALS found since September 8, 2011
21: Current number of core areas where the snail has been found in Miami-Dade County
574: Number of properties on which snails have been found
46,979: Number of properties within a ½ mile arc of positive properties
Nine +: Number of years it took to eradicate the snail after it was found in Florida in 1966
17,000: Total number of snails collected in the 1966-1975 eradication program
$1 million: Cost of that eradication (in 1960s dollars)
7.8 Million: Estimated expenditure since Sept. 8, 2011 on the current eradication effort
One: Number of successful GALS eradication programs on record
1-888-397-1517: Number of the Division of Plant Industry toll-free Helpline
As of July 26, 2013
- Snail Panic (modernfarmer.com)
- Drop in Giant African Snail Population in Miami-Dade Signals Progress (fldpi.wordpress.com)
July 11, 2013
This weekend, July 13-14, 2013, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden will celebrate two centuries of mangos in Florida at its 21st annual International Mango Festival. The garden is located at 10901 Old Cutler Road, Coral Gables.
The fruit originated in Southeast Asia and India. It is referenced in Hindu writings from 4000 B.C. Buddhist monks cultivated it and consider it to be a sacred fruit because it is said Buddha himself meditated under a mango tree. Humans migrating from Asia to the Middle East, Africa and South America carried the seeds around 300 or 400 A.D. Pirates brought mangos to South Florida about two centuries ago. Grafted varieties were introduced in 1889 by David Fairchild, for whom Miami’s Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden is named.
In this article in the Miami Herald,Fairchild’s Curator of Tropical fruit, Noris Ledsma, tells the story of the mango in South Florida and the crucial role the Sunshine State has played in its production. She notes that, while all of the commercial varieties currently grown were developed in Florida, 99 percent of the mangos in U.S. supermarkets are now imported from South America and the Caribbean. In fact, the U.S. is the world’s largest importer of the fruit.
Because mangos are a tropical fruit, commercial production in the U.S. is limited to the states of Florida, California, Hawaii and the Territory of Puerto Rico. While the mango industry thrived in South Florida for some years after the fruit’s introduction in the early 1900s, freezes, urbanization, hurricanes and foreign competition have all taken their toll. Today fewer than 1,000 acres remain in production, mostly growing fruit for sale at local farmers’ and specialty markets. Backyard trees, though, are common throughout South Florida. Says Ledsma, “Every household with a yard in South Florida should have a mango tree.”
Lately, the media have been reporting on the cicadas that have emerged in the Washington, D.C. area after spending the last 17 years underground. One reason we may be hearing so much about this particular emergence is the concentration of population and proliferation of media in the area. Folks who crave hearing their deafening mating calls — among the loudest sounds produced in nature — can do so almost any year. They just have to travel to the right place.
Entomologists have dubbed this particular group “Brood II.” Actually, there are 12 broods (a brood is defined as a group having a common nature or origin) of 17-year cicadas. In May of their year of emergence, when the temperature reaches 64 degrees, the cicada nymphs tunnel to the surface and crawl onto trees. There they shed their skins and the males begin singing to attract the females. Females lay 400 to 600 eggs in the branches of trees; nymphs hatch, then drop to the ground and begin burrowing. This all happens in less than four weeks. By July, all of the adults will have died.
Click here to view a beautiful video trailer documenting the cicadas’ 17-year life cycle in just seven minutes, produced by Samuel Orr for an upcoming PBS documentary.
Often heard; seldom seen
While you won’t encounter the 17-year varieties in Florida, you can hear the calls of their southern cousins and see their cast-off nymphal skeletons on tree trunks and shrubs. (Entomologists at the University of Florida have posted the calls of a number of North Florida species here.)
Florida’s cicadas are not without their quirks. Females are sometimes attracted to power tools and lawnmowers. It appears they are mistaking the noises from the tools for the mating calls of the males. They don’t seem to cause much damage to Florida crops, although one species, Tibicen davisi, was reported in the 1930s to have damaged a type of asparagus fern, Asparagus plumosus, grown for use by florists. Ferneries have reported no such damage in recent years. That may be because Asparagus virgatum, which has largely replaced A. plumosus as the main crop grown in Florida ferneries, is less susceptible.
Another cicada species, Diceroprocta viridifascia, once caused another kind of economic harm. Seems their raucous daytime chorus interfered with a movie company’s sound track for scenes it was filming at a beach near St. Augustine.
For more about Florida cicadas, visit this Featured Creatures page by UF/IFAS and FDACS/DPI Entomology and Nemotology.
May 30, 2013
It is swarming season for Africanized honey bees and that means bee removal specialists around the state are busy.
We all depend on managed bees for honey and pollination of our crops. A growing number of us have taken up beekeeping as a hobby. But, in contrast with the gentle European honey bees that populate managed colonies, the Africanized bee, now found across the Florida peninsula south of Ocala, poses some special concerns.
The Africanized bees have a fearsome reputation for attacking animals and people who have the misfortune to threaten or disturb their homes. This trait that has led to their being branded “killer bees.” People and animals have died from their stings right here in Florida.
This is the time of year when colonies split up. Swarms leave the original colony. You may see the swarm clinging to a tree branch, awaiting the return of scouts sent out to locate a new home. Unlike the more docile European honey bee, the Africanized bee tends to set up housekeeping in places like the walls and ceilings of homes and other buildings, upended flower pots, utility boxes — they’ve even been found in abandoned vehicles.
While they are swarming, however, the bees have no home to defend and are therefore less likely to attack. That does not mean swarms should be ignored. You don’t want them to set up a home to defend on your property!
This article in the Sun Sentinel says one bee removal specialist in South Florida is receiving between five and 10 calls per week from people with bee colonies on their property. Our FDACS/DPI Africanized honey bee webpage, contains tips on protecting your property and family as well as a Bee Nest and Swarm Removal Contact List to help guide you to companies and individuals that are experts in removing nuisance bees.
To discourage Africanized bees from nesting, beekeepers place managed hives in public parks and on private lands. If Africanized bees come into an area to forage and don’t find adequate food because of managed colonies in the area, they will move on. Beekeepers also requeen their colonies with European honey bees to ensure managed hives do not become infiltrated with Africanized queens.
What’s the difference between European and Africanized honey bees?
It is very difficult to distinguish Africanized honey bees from European honey bees, and the AHB species can only be verified through USDA identification testing, which scientists at FDACS/DPI have been trained to do. There are important behavioral differences between the two species:
- Africanizedhoney bees are more defensive than European honey bees.
- They defend their nests with less provocation, in greater numbers and for longer distances.
- AHB swarm as many as 16 times per year. EHB only swarm once or twice per year.
- AHB are not selective of nesting sites and will quickly inhabit empty spaces, holes or cavities. EHB are more selective and prefer drier sites three to four feet above ground.
Anyone who thinks they have seen a swarm or may be hosting a colony of bees should call the FDACS/DPI Helpline, 1-888-397-1517. Click here to view a fact sheet on Africanized honey bees.
African bees are an invasive species that is relatively new to Florida. Wondering how they found their way here? We’ll tell you in our next post.
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.