Flies you Might Like

December 20, 2016


Phorid fly attacking red imported fire ant photo by Jeffery Lotz


Ouch- the red imported fire ant, we all know this tic-tac sized fierce biting nuisance. You probably stepped in a pile of these ants as a child or know someone who has, so you know how painful they can be. Unfortunately, this fire ant problem is not just in Florida. They have been found across the southeastern United States and even in Puerto Rico.  While these are troublesome pests to people, they are even more problematic for agriculture, natural environments, and wildlife including native ant species, deer, turtles, alligators, rodents, birds, and other ground nesting animals.

Help is on the way via a natural solution…

The red imported fire ant comes from South America where a group of tiny phorid flies are its natural enemies. These host-specific flies attack and parasitize the fire ant, resulting in its death.

The fly injects its egg into the midsection of the ant, the egg hatches and the larva (maggot) lives for two to three weeks within the ant, eventually traveling to the ant’s head where it releases an enzyme which causes the head to fall off. The phorid fly maggot ingests the contents of the head capsule and then utilizes it as a pupal case.


Pictured from left: Amy Croft, Shanna Swiers, Catherine White, Elise Schuchman, and George Schneider

Phorid flies have been reared at the Division of Plant Industry in partnership with the USDA since 2001 with the help of dedicated and skilled team members who attend to these flies daily. Since its start, there have been four species of phorid flies reared at DPI’s Gainesville location, each attacking different sized worker ants and active at different times.

Fire ants are collected in the field and brought back to the DPI Gainesville lab. Once in the lab, technicians place them in attack boxes which are specially designed to prompt movement of the ants allowing phorid flies to attack. Once the flies have been introduced to the attack boxes, the ants remain exposed for 48 hours allowing for maximum parasitization to take place.

Parasitized ants are distributed throughout the southeast to agricultural lands such as cattle farms and other natural areas which are then monitored for impact. While these flies are not available for distribution to the general public, the work being done helps to manage the imported fire ant numbers.


Pictured from left: Haley Lower, AJ Wilson, Liam Patrick, Daniel Ammann

Few other organizations research the phorid fly, which makes the work done at the Division of Plant Industry so important.

Between July and September alone, 349,614 phorid flies were reared at the Gainesville location, adding to the millions reared over the past 15 years.

It is the hope that releasing phorid flies will reduce the chemical control applications used on fire ants, thus reducing harmful impacts of these pesticides on humans, wildlife, and the environment.

Let the team know!

Share your thoughts in the comments and let us know what you think about the work DPI and the USDA are doing!







December 12, 2016

poinsettiaThe poinsettia is the most popular holiday plant this time of year. They come in an array of different colors from pink, blue, purple, white, orange, even multi-colored but are traditionally red. You’ve seen these beautiful plants in every supermarket from November to December but they mysteriously disappear after New Year’s Day.

Many people toss them, knowing they will buy new ones next year. Others will attempt but fail to keep up with the 12 hours of dark that is required to alter the color on the bracts (bracts are the leaf-like structures that change colors). However, may fortunate and/or skilled gardeners will nurture their plants keeping them alive all year allowing them to grow to 10-feet tall, enjoying their colorful autumnal bloom.


Native to southern Mexico, poinsettias were originally used by the Aztecs for dye and medicinal purposes. The plant was introduced to the United States by Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Ambassador to Mexico, who brought the plant back to South Carolina in 1828. He began propagating and dispersing the plant amongst his friends. By 1836, the plant gained the common name poinsettia. In honor of Joel Poinsett, December 12th has been titled National Poinsettia Day, marking his passing and honoring his botanical achievements.


Poinsettias are not poisonous, however, those with latex allergies or sensitivities might want to avoid the sap, which contains latex (check it out, latex is a natural product). What you should be concerned about are pets and children. It is not edible, and those with cats, dogs, horses, cows and birds should proceed with caution when this plant is around their animals.


Don’t throw your poinsettia away. This seasonal plant can bloom until March, and then be saved until next November when it will bloom all over again.  Check out UF/IFAS for tips on how to care for your poinsettia through the holiday season and beyond.

Happy National Poinsettia Day!







Warner Brothers just released their brand new movie from the Harry Potter franchise “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” a wonderful movie set in 1926 New York City where a foreign traveler Newt Scamander a magizoologist (a person who studies magical creatures) is writing a manuscript in the hopes of helping non-maj (muggles) understand these fantastic beasts. During his trip to New York he packs a suitcase with various creatures including a thunderbird which Newt hopes to release back to his home in Arizona. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. During his visit, things go crazy and some creatures escape!

Why does this sound familiar?

Because every day people travel all over the world with their suitcase filled to the brim with foreign entities. Sometimes it’s medicine, plants, animals, insects, food, or a commodity they brought back as a souvenir. All of these items have the potential to be dangerous to our native species agriculture and enviornment. Much like the movie, once a fantastic beast escapes, chaos can quickly follow. Non-native species don’t have natural enemies and thus, can quickly populate and destroy valuable natural resources.

The pests that arrive in Florida (giant African land snails, whiteflies, Asian citrus psyllid, etc.), can cause a great deal of trouble. While we can’t “reparo” the situation as quickly as wizards can, biocontrol agents are set in place to mitigate the problem at hand. Phorid flies parasitize imported fire ant populations, Lilioceris cheni beetles eat air potato vines, Tamarixia radiata help control the Asian citrus psyllid (the vector for citrus greening disease), and the list of beneficial natural enemies goes on.

What we do know is the importance of declaring agricultural items when coming through customs.


While J.K. Rowling is right, the transportation of creatures without a permit is illegal, she was wrong about customs. U.S. Customs and Border Control officers and their canine partners are vigilant and will attempt to catch whatever you bring in. “…undeclared prohibited agriculture items will be confiscated and can result in the issuance of a civil penalty to the traveler for failure to declare the prohibited item.”So stop while you’re ahead. Don’t be a Newt Scamander and remember Don’t Pack a Pest!


Leah Bauer, USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station, Bugwood.org

Wood from white ash trees makes up a majority of Louisville Slugger’s baseball bats and have been for many years. Parent company Hillerich & Bradsby Co. has unwillingly sought other options as a result of the decline in white ash trees in the New York and Pennsylvania area due to the invasive emerald ash borer (EAB).


Emerald ash borers are an invasive species discovered in 2002 near Detroit, Michigan, and have since spread. The spread is largely caused by the transportation of firewood within and between states. As the name states, the insects have a beautiful metallic emerald green coloring, but looks can be deceiving. This wood-hungry insect has been noted to eat all varieties of ash trees in North America.

The insects feed on ash trees where they then lay their eggs inside the bark. During the summer months, the eggs will hatch and the larvae will eat the tree from the inside out, starving it from water and proper nutrients. When the borers emerge from the tree they leave behind a D-shaped hole, a tell-tale sign of emerald ash borers. Another indicator is an abundance of woodpeckers who are fond of the EAB in the larval stage.


Kenneth R. Law, USDA APHIS PPQ, Bugwood.org

As a result of the decline in white ash trees, the Hillerich & Bradsby Co. has looked into alternatives to their most popular wood, including maple and yellow birch. While these don’t mimic the exact strength and flexibility of the white ash tree, they will have to do for the time being. Athletes like Tim Tebow have already made the switch to a maple wood bat, which doesn’t seem to affect his ability to hit home runs. While others like recently retired Derek Jeter used a white ash bat his entire career.

America’s favorite pastime isn’t the only thing in jeopardy local trees in states where the beetle is established are at risk. Densely populated areas could be riddled with stumps by the time the borer has struck that area.

While the emerald ash borer is not in Florida yet, it’s important to “Burn It Where You Buy It,” a slogan by the Don’t Move Firewood campaign that notes the importance of not transporting firewood. Wood can be infested even if there aren’t any visible signs. If you are interested in the Don’t Move Firewood Campaign please check out their website for more information.

If you suspect you have a tree that may be infested, please contact your local extension office.

Little Apple of Death

October 24, 2016

Manchineel Tree Hippomane mancinella, or as the Spanish called it, “Manzanita de la muerte” (little apple of death) is a deceiving fruit-bearing tree that can even inflict harm to anyone standing beneath its branches.

This tree is quite irritating all the way around not a single piece of this tree is safe. Burning the wood could cause noxious smoke, touching the tree could cause allergic dermatitis, the milky sap could cause blindness if it comes in contact with the eye, and ingesting the fruit may cause death.  The toxins Hipponmain A and Hippomanin B were discovered to have varying levels of toxicity depending on its maturity.

Despite the maturity level of the tree, it can still cause serious damage. A survivor noted that the fruit tasted sweet before it started to make their throat swell shut. Luckily, they were treated quickly and survived the incident.

Historically, parts of the tree have been used for various defense mechanisms. Native Americans are reported to have placed leaves of the tree into springs to poison those who drank from it, as well as covering the tips of their arrows with the milky sap to make wounds even more deadly. This is what was reported to have killed Juan Ponce de Leon, the Spanish explorer who discovered Florida. When he tried to settle in the Charlotte Harbor, the Calusa attacked him and his men with the poison-covered arrows. The wounds he incurred in battle led to his death in 1521.


Photo by Mica

This deadly tree can be found in the Caribbean, the Bahamas, Mexico, Central, northern South America and most importantly Florida.

Don’t worry too much, while this was once an abundant tree in Florida it is currently only found in the Cape Sable region of the Everglades National Park.

While this tree’s impact is dangerous, it’s important to note that it can be fatal. If you come across this tree please proceed with caution. Avoid the area at all costs and do not consume the fruit.

If you are interested in knowing more about the Manchineel tree and other deadly plants in a safe environment, visit the Florida Museum of Natural History and explore “Wicked Plants” (a touring exhibit here until January 2017).



Dr. Paul Skelley took a moment to speak with us about a wonderful event that happened last week, the International Congress of Entomology 2016. Six thousand entomologists from around the world descended on Orlando, Florida an event that has only been held in the United States two other times since its founding in Brussels, Belgium in 1910.

This year’s ICE theme “Entomology Without Borders” emphasized the global impact of entomology and a multidisciplinary approach to exploring and expanding our scientific frontiers.

While many of our DPI staff presented at the ICE 2016 (see the full list of DPI employees who participated and their topics below), they also hosted a small group at DPI on Sept. 28.

Dr. Paul Skelley, a taxonomic Entomologist and the collection manager of the Florida State Collection of Arthropods, extended an invitation to entomologists to visit the world renowned museum in Gainesville, Florida. Many national and international taxonomists had the chance to view specimens in the state collection and to continue or start new research collaborations. “We know so many individuals from correspondence only. This was our first time face to face. It was an opportunity to have a collaboration party,” said Dr. Skelley. The International Congress of Entomology, much like the Olympics rotates every four years and the destinations are always different. Location have included Korea, Italy and even the Netherlands, so for the ICE to be so close brought “potential and opportunity are to our doorstep,” said Dr. Skelley.

When asked the importance of having these visitors come to DPI, Dr. Skelley stressed that the arthropod museum is “for these people and students to use as resources. These entomologists had the ability to come and hopefully identify some of the species in the museum. They may also borrow specimens for continued research in their field, and ultimately share materials from their studies building on the state resources for use by local workers. It is a win-win scenario.”

Paul has been communicating with some of these scientists for over 20 years, admitting that this ICE was like a family reunion.

Happy Entomological Reunion!

  • Soybean aphid (Aphis glycines) Genome Assembly Process and Status-Felipe N. Soto-Adames
  • 0305Biological control of the brown marmorated stink bug, Halyomorpha halys (Hemiptera: Pentatomidae) using Euthyrhynchus floridanus (Hemiptera: Pentatomidae)- Julio Medal
  • 0043Surprising results and implications of the Florida psyllid testing project- Susan Halbert
  • 0417Impacts of novel insecticides to three opiine braconid parasitoids Fopius arisanus (Sonan), Diachasmimorpha longicaudata (Ashmead), and Psyttalia fletcheri (Silvestri) based on adult mortality under foliar cover spray application – Trevor Smith
  • 1130Expanding small fruit production in Florida: responding to an economic disaster with eyes wide open – Ian Stocks
  • 1559Genetic and behavioral differentiation between two closely related whitefly parasitoids – Antonio Francis and Eric Rohrig
  • 1835History of alien invasive arthropod detections in Florida – Michael Thomas and Paul Skelley
  • 1839Florida exotic whitefly invaders from the last decade- Ian Stocks
  • 1842Biocontrol in Florida using herbivores, parasitoids, and predators – Eric Rohrig
  • 2565Synergistic / additive interactions among components of food-based baits underlie female attraction in three invasive fruit fly species- Trevor Smith
  • 2659Surface active mites in the northern Chihuahuan Desert, USA – Cal Welbourn
  • 4067The Anastrepha Project: Morphological, molecular, and biological studies of adults and larvae – Gary Steck, Bruce Sutton, Erick Rodriguez, Pratibha Srivastava
  • 4544The genus Pharaxanotha (sensu lato), Erotylidae that pollinate cycads – Paul Skelley and Kyle Schnepp
  • D3410Biological control based strategies to manage privet whitefly, Aleurotrachelus trachoides, in Florida- Antonio Francis
  • D3653How many is too many? Risk assessment of giant African snail (Achatina fulica) – Shweta Sharma, Katrina Dickens, Amy Howe and Shannen Leahy
  • D3669Scents and sensibility: Florida’s eradication efforts and long-term plans for giant African snail (Achatina fulica) – Amy Howe



*Only DPI employees are listed. To see a full list of presenters please visit: http://ice2016orlando.org/scientific-program/xxv-ice-2016-official-program-book/

*Bolded names indicate first author,

Corpse Flower

September 27, 2016

titan-arum1webIt’s a foul smelling odor that emits from a towering flower that looks like it might have come out of Jurassic Park. This mighty flower stands up to 10ft tall and smells like…well… a decomposing corpse! But, oddly enough the size of this giant botanical beast is not the only oddity.

I guess that’s why they say, “wake up and smell the roses” because a rose is a far more pleasant scent by comparison.

This aptly named Corpse flower or Amorphophallus titanum is native to Indonesia’s Sumatran rainforest and considered the “largest unbranched inflorescence in the plant kingdom” according to the United States Botanic Garden.  “Calling it a flower is actually a misnomer: it comprises  several flowers that cluster around the base of the stalk (the spadix), hidden by the plant’s maroon skirt (the spathe) (National Geographic).”

Why the rotting smell? Scientist theorizes it is to attract insects such as flies, and carrion beetles who think it’s a decomposing body. These insects along with birds who eat berry-like fruits from the spadix, help to disperse the plant parts necessary to pollinate new plants.


Illustration by Chicago Botanic Garden

The corpse flower was discovered by Italian botanist Odoaro Beccari in 1878 who sent its seed back to Italy who in turn shared it with England’s Royal Botanical Garden who just 12 years later cultivated its first bloom in 1889.

Between 1889 and 2008 the corpse flower has only bloomed 157 times, which leaves botanist scratching their head at the fact that during 2016 alone there were 13 publicized blooms. Within a 3 month period, 6 to7 blooms occurred across the United States. A previously unheard of event.

The corpse flower only blooms when it’s ready. Years and seasons mean nothing to this mammoth plant. This is largely due to the size of the flower. The “corm” is an underground stem that stores energy from the plant. This will eventually produce a spike which over time will bloom.

Scientists suggest these plants may be related, but there is no significant evidence to verify their hypothesis.

Be on the lookout for upcoming Florida blooms including Seymour and Audrey (two corpse flowers) at Sarasota’s Selby Gardens and one at Winter Haven’s Rollins College.

This large flower is surely a sight to behold and a smell to endure

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