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

grill_208572658_smallCollege football season has just begun and Florida teams are off to a decent start, but what many people like myself, are more concerned with is the FOOD! Watching the game is all well and good but it’s nothing without a good hot dog, boiled peanuts, or even a cold lemonade. I mean that’s why we all get together and hang out in the hot Florida sun for five hours before the football game right?

What you may not consider when chowing down on your favorite snacks is where they come from. When people think of Florida they think of theme parks, beaches, and our outstanding colleges. But what people don’t consider is that Florida is a major producer of various agricultural items. For example, Florida grows oranges, potatoes, peanuts, corn, tomatoes, sugarcane, and blueberries amongst other things. Florida is a very diverse state in terms of agriculture and may contribute more to what you consume then you think.

Game Day

Florida is the number one producer of oranges in the country…but you knew that already. Many tailgaters will start their day with a fresh glass of Florida orange juice or for the fancy tailgaters a mimosa! You may have even had a bowl of locally grown watermelon, strawberries and blueberries for breakfast, those are all Florida grown too!

During your tailgate, you and your friends have grilled up some burgers, and hot dogs. Don’t forget to dress them up with lettuce, tomatoes, ketchup and relish! Florida grows 32,000 acres of tom
atoes annually, and 18,000 acres of cucumbers are produced in Florida just for pickles! That doesn’t include the 10,000 acres of cucumbers for your grocery store or garden salads.peanuts

Kick off

You’ve made it to the game and you’re still hungry, me too! Time to grab some peanuts! They’re a better option compared to the premade pretzels or imitation cheese that comes on those nachos. Florida is the second highest peanut producer after Texas, growing 180,000 acres annually! Peanuts are so popular they have their own day (National Peanut Day Sept. 13)

Do you need something a little bit more substantial? What about hot dogs or hamburger? Florida contributes 15,000 acres of wheat to the nation. Keeping you well stocked on buns and bread for any and all of your lunch time desires. While you’re out you better grab some French fries to go with your hot dog or hamburger. Florida produces 29,000 acres of potatoes annually.

And lastly, don’t forget about your drinks. Florida grows 409,000 acres of sugarcane that could be in your soda, orange juice, lemonade, or even sports drinks.

While these concessions are delicious, it’s important to remember how vulnerable they can be. Importing agricultural commodities from various areas can introduce new threats to our delicate ecosywheatstem. Do your part and remember when traveling, Don’t Pack a Pest, and Don’t Move Firewood. By remembering this you could be preventing the importation of invasive species, thus, saving our state from a major agricultural problem, as well as preserving our tailgating necessities for seasons to come.

All statistical figures are courtesy of USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Survey.


Tamarixia radiata Photograph by: Jeffery Lotz

By now you’ve probably heard about the horrible citrus greening disease or Huanglongbing that has greatly affected Florida’s citrus industry. You might also know that the Asian citrus psyllid is the transmitter of Huanglongbing.


Okay, well let me backtrack. Citrus greening was first detected in Miami-Dade County in 2005, causing a statewide quarantine. In the years following, citrus greening led to a steady decline in citrus tree health leading to under ripened fruit and lower production of viable citrus. There is currently no known cure for Huanglongbing. However, there are ways to slow the spread.

So what can we do?

In cooperation with UF-IFAS, a parasitoid of the psyllid, Tamarixia radiata, was introduced into the Division of Plant Industry’s quarantine laboratory in 1998 prior to the discovery of Huanglongbing in Florida. After successful rearing, releases started only one year later in 1999. The division rears and releases T. radiata in areas with high numbers of psyllids. Additionally T. radiata is safe for all organisms, with the exception of the psyllid.

Today, the Division of Plant Industry has two rearing locations, one in Gainesville, FL and one in Dundee, FL. In 2015, 3,639,909 wasps were reared, of which roughly 70 percent will be released and the remaining will be used for additional research.

Use of T. radiata is a beneficial complement to pesticides, proven to be a safe option for pollinators such as the honey bee.

Currently, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Division of Plant Industry is accepting applications for the T. radiata dooryard release program. By participating in this program you are helping the health of your citrus trees as well as those of your neighbors and local growers. If you or someone you know is interested in participating in a residential release of T. radiata, please visit our site and fill out the appropriate documentation.

The Division of Plant Industry is here to help keep Florida’s citrus safe!


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We know you’ve heard about the popular augmented reality game “Pokémon Go,” but do you know how it all began?

As a child, Satoshi Tajiri the creator of Pokémon was initially interested in collecting arthropods (an invertebrate animal from the phylum Arthropoda.) In a 1999 interview with Time Magazine Tajiri said, “As a child, I wanted to be an entomologist. Insects fascinated me. Every new insect was a wonderful mystery. And as I searched for more, I would find more. If I put my hand in a river, I would get a crayfish. Put a stick underwater and make a hole, look for bubbles and there were more creatures.” He collected them as a child, and after dropping out of high school he pursued an education in electronics. He then spent six years developing a game in which the main character collects fictional creatures in pokeballs. With his passion for arthropods and his love for technology he created Pokémon.

Many of Tajiri’s original Pokémon were modeled after his arthropod obsession. Characters like Caterpie, Pinsir, and Scyther all originated from real creatures. Overtime additional Pokémon have been added to the pokedex and the theme of arthropods is consistent even with new characters like Ledyba, Yanma, and Nincada.

At the Division of Plant Industry, we host one of the largest arthropod museum in North America, with over nine million specimens and growing. New species are being discovered daily. Take Spencer K. Monckton for example, according to BuzzFeed, Spencer just identified a new species of bee, which he named Chilicola charizard after the iconic original Pokémon Charzard.

Fingers crossed “Pokémon Go” will lead to the encouragement of more entomologists, much like the young Tajiri and Monckton.

Drop by and make us your original Pokestop. If you or your young aspiring Pokémon trainers would like to schedule a tour to see the origins of Pokémon in our arthropod museum, please contact Charles Whitehill, our office is open Monday-Friday 8am-5pm.


Mandrake Root Man

While you may be familiar with the screaming anthropomorphized potato characters from the very popular Harry Potter franchise, you should probably know the idea for the character is based on a very real plant.

Mandrake Roots aren’t just Fictional Harry Potter plants. Their roots stem back (pun intended) to the 17th century when these plants were used for medicinal purposes. Thought to cure fertility issues, these plants became a hot commodity, although, they came at a price.

Mandrake roots have carried with them myth and legend throughout the ages. In the movie Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, students wore ear muffs to block the screams of the young mandrakes, which were thought to kill whoever heard its shrieks. However, according to lore, earmuffs won’t save you from its high pitch wails. In order to collect the mandrake without seeking an unfortunate end, farmers would tie a mandrake to a dog and then lure it with food; thus, killing the dog but leaving you with a freshly pulled mandrake (it’s important to note this is only a myth).

Mandrake roots originated in the Mediterranean and are part of the nightshade family. The same family that gives us tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, peppers, tobacco and goji berries. The nightshade family is notorious for its poisonous offspring. Historically mandrake roots have been used in conjunction with other plants as a natural anesthetic. With the proper dosages, the plants put a patient in a deep sleep so doctors could perform surgery.

While mandrakes aren’t popular in Florida, you can find them and other deadly plants at the Florida Natural History Museum for a limited time between now and January 2017 at the Wicked Plants exhibit.

No dogs were harmed in the creation of this blog.

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