August 17, 2016
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!
August 2, 2016
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.
July 26, 2016
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.
June 30, 2016
Supermarkets rarely carry more than one or two variations of honey; however, the abundance of honey variety goes virtually unknown amongst consumers.
According to the National Honey Board, “Single varietal honeys result when the honey bees gather nectar from the same type of flowers. This process is aided by beekeepers who strategically place their hives in an orchard or adjacent to a single type of flower and then carefully monitor the collection of honey.”
The more familiar of these honeys would be the clover and orange blossom variety.
Clover is a popular honey; it is considered the highest contributor to honey production across the United States. Orange blossom honey is popular in Florida, due to the abundance of orange trees and other citruses.
Other honey varieties include: alfalfa, avocado, basswood, black locust, blackberry, blueberry, Brazilian pepper, buckwheat, Chinese tallow, cotton, eucalyptus, fireweed, gallberry, goldenrod, lehua, mesquite, mint, raspberry, safflower, saw palmetto, snowberry, star thistle, sunflower, sage, sourwood, tupelo, and tulip polar.
Honey, much like wine has an aroma and tasting wheel. This wheel will help you identify notes and subtle nuances in your honey; they may also better assist you in finding varieties you may enjoy. In addition to the tasting wheel, you may also look at the color of the honey, the lighter the color the milder the taste.
So take a step outside your comfort zone. Try some fresh Florida honey, as well as a mixture from across the country. You never know, you may just fall in love with a new assortment of honey.
June 23, 2016
At the Division of Plant Industry, an important part of our mission is to protect Florida’s natural landscape. And while we recognize not all plants are nice, we can share information about those that are considered “wicked,” due sometimes to the mere fact that they stink!
For example, have you ever heard of a skunk cabbage (Synplocarpus foetidus)? It’s a cabbage that smells like the name says, like a skunk. Located in the wetland areas in eastern parts of North America, the skunk cabbage is best known as a thermogenic plant meaning it produces its own heat. This process takes place over a 12 to 14 day period where the flower is blooming and its bloom breaks down substances. During this cycle, the flower uses a combination of oxygen and starches from its root system to produce the energy required for heat.
It should be noted that this is not a plant you play with. When trampled or bruised, the plant emits a foul smell as a natural deterrent from predators. Ingesting this plant can cause, swelling, choking sensations, and a burning sensation in the mouth. Excessive consumption may result in death.
If you want to learn more about the skunk cabbage and other wicked plants, visit The Florida Museum of Natural History: Wicked Plants: The Exhibit will be on display between now and January 15, 2017. The exhibit is based off the entertaining book “Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities” by Amy Stewart.
An interactive interface is available for students of all ages to learn about dangerous plants. “The challenge for the museum is to use Wicked Plants to grab visitor’s attention, then turn it into curiosity about all plants, the toxic and the terrific,” says, Patti J. Anderson, Ph.D., chief botanist with the Division of Plant Industry.
For more information on this event and others held by the museum please visit the museum’s exhibits page.
June 16, 2016
Dads around the nation will be celebrating Father’s Day with their loved ones. They will be recognized for their nurturing abilities, and uncanny ability to protect their kids.
Much like human dads, bug dads deserve recognition too. One bug dad that rises to the top is the giant water bug (Abedus belostoma) also known as the “toe-biter.”
Much like its aquatic friend the seahorse, the giant water bug dad carries the eggs of his young for three weeks. The female lays up to 150 eggs on his back, for him to protect. Giant water bug’s spend much of their time in the water, leaving them and their young susceptible to aquatic organisms and growing mold. The father prevents this by surfacing often and cleaning the eggs.
One of the great things about carrying around his young is that he can remove them from dangerous situations easily; all he has to do is run away. But that’s not all he can do. With pinching forelegs and an impressive bite, the giant water bug can pack a punch. It typically attacks prey by injecting enzymes through a straw like appendage, liquefying the prey’s insides, and providing a feast of liquefied inners. Don’t worry, giant water bugs are not fond of humans, they prefer small fish, tadpoles, and even small birds. However, they have been given the name “toe-biters” for the bites given to feet when startled by wading humans.
This bug can be abundantly found in the Southeastern United States. So look out for this dad-of-the year the next time you’re in an aquatic area around late summer or early fall.
Give your dad a shout out below and tell us why he’s the best!
Sweet Honey Bees Arrive in the U.S.
Honey bees brought to the U.S. in the 1600s by European settlers soon became one of the most economically beneficial insects due to their contributions as a top tier pollinator. Their gentle nature made them easy to manage, and the sweetness they produced made them a favorite in the kitchen
Not So Sweet Honey Bees Introduced
In 1956, a researcher in Brazil imported honey bees from Africa in an attempt to create a honey bee that would be better suited to tropical conditions. The African honey bees were bred with European honey bees. Researchers expected that when mated with the gentle European honey bees, the African honey bees would lose their more defensive nature. However, that was not the case, and in 1957, 26 African queen bees escaped from a breeding program in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The hybrid Africanized honey bees (AHB) became established and expanded their range through South and Central America. The first report of Africanized honey bees in the United States was made in Hidalgo, Texas in 1990. Since then, they have been found throughout the southern U.S.
Department’s Mission is in Part to Protect the Apiary Industry
Recognizing the importance of honey bees to Florida agriculture, the Department established an apiary (honey bee) inspection program in 1923 within our Division of Plant Industry. Part of the inspection program involves maintaining 500 bait traps around the state to monitor for unwanted honey bee species.
Africanized Honey Bees Arrive in Florida
In the early 2000s, Africanized honey bees were first detected in Florida and several stinging incidences occurred. The Department continues to work with others to address increasing concerns related to the establishment of AHB, while at the same time stressing the importance and beneficial aspects of managed honey bee colonies. The message needs to be a balanced one: support the beekeeping industry because their efforts put food on our tables and plants and flowers in our landscape, but also be prepared to respond to potential stinging insects such as the Africanized honey bee.
What Does the AHB Look Like and How Do They Act?
The short answer is just like a European honey bee. Africanized honey bees are 10% smaller than EHBs, but most people won’t take the time to measure! Africanized honey bees have very different personalities. They are overly defensive and will attack more readily than that of the EHB.
How to Avoid Being Stung
The African honey bees build their colonies in many places around homes, businesses and in the wild. You may find them in your barbeque grill, an empty flower pot, an utility box, a discarded tire, up in a tree or under a building eave. They tend to react when they are disturbed by moving their nest or even by loud noises and vibrations cause by machinery such as lawnmowers or leaf blowers. When one or two AHB go out to investigate and sense danger, they use pheromones to alert others of a possible attacker. These pheromones can call thousands of AHB to attack. Things to do if you are attacked by an AHB include:
- Don’t swat them! Remember the more pheromones, the more bees, the more stings.
- If bees begin to chase you, run away in a straight line, cover your face, particularly your nose and mouth, and get inside a building or vehicle. Even if a few get in with you, it is better than remaining outside where there is a greater potential for a larger numbers of bees and stings.
- Remove the stinger by scraping it out with a fingernail or credit card; squeezing the stringer will release more venom.
- Seek medical attention if you are stung several times, or you are allergic to bee stings.