December 20, 2016
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.
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.
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!
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!
January 23, 2015
An attractive little red beetle, augmenting years of work by committed volunteers, is helping rid Gainesville of one of its most noxious plant pests. For 15 years the annual Great Air Potato Round Ups were the largest volunteer community event for the City of Gainesville’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department. Now, the years of work by volunteers and the beetle have prompted the city to change the focus of the round ups. This year, volunteers will participate in the first annual Great Invader Raider Rally and Gainesville Greenway Challenge, January 31. Volunteers will work to restore pre-assigned natural areas from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., then gather at Morningside Nature Center for a celebration including t-shirts, music, prizes, environmental booths, games and food (for sale).
(Preregistration for the event is required. You can register here,)
The air potato, Dioscorea bulbifera, was introduced into Florida in 1905. The fast-growing, high-climbing vine tends to out-compete and smother native species. Until the introduction of the beetle as a biocontrol, management practices were time consuming, costly, temporary and often had negative effects on surrounding vegetation and organisms.
Lilioceris cheni, the air potato beetle, is committed to finding and feeding on the air potato. In fact, that’s it’s only purpose in life. Since 2012, FDACS has been rearing and releasing it from a laboratory at the Division of Plant Industry headquarters in Gainesville. Once released, the beetles have significantly reduced the out-of-control vines. The beetles are hardy, able to survive the winter months without food when the air potato dies back.
Beetles are released in Florida May through October. Dr. Eric Rohrig says so far about 125,000 have been released at 600 sites in 40 counties. The biocontrol program is a partnership between FDACS, the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and agricultural Sciences and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, which funded the original project.
Biocontrols like the air potato beetle are helping communities like Gainesville rid themselves of noxious invasive plants, enabling dedicated volunteers to attend to other Great Invaders. Anyone who encounters the air potato vine can call the FDACS Helpline at 1-888-397-1517 or visit the website, below, to request a possible beetle release in their neighborhood.
Program information, publications, and beetle request forms can be found online: http://bcrcl.ifas.ufl.edu/airpotatobiologicalcontrol.shtml
For further information regarding this project please contact Dr. Eric Rohrig with the Division of Plant Industry at Eric.Rohrig@freshfromflorida.com .
September 8, 2014
…and we’re not talking about Grandpa’s first car.
We’ve recently received some questions from our social media followers about the leaf beetles the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has been rearing and releasing against the invasive air potato. Questions like, “How can I have some released in my neighborhood,” and “are they sterile?”
These little red beetles, Lilioceris cheni — which are kind of cute, we think — are air potato-eating machines. Where they have been released, they have significantly reduced the out-of-control vines. Their diet is limited to the air potato. which they consume enthusiastically, giving native plants room to grow and become more competitive. Air potato vines die back in the fall and sprout in the spring, but the beetles are able to survive the winter months without food.
Air potato, Dioscorea bulbifera, is an invasive, high-climbing vine that tends to out-compete vegetation by smothering native species. It is listed as a noxious weed by FDACS and a Category I invasive plant by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council.
The biocontrol program is a partnership between FDACS, the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, which funded the original project.
The FDACS Division of Plant Industry began releases in the summer of 2012. Beetle populations have increased at release sites inducing varying levels of damage. Lilioceris cheni is being widely distributed on both public and private lands throughout Florida.
So if you find yourself calling for help to get rid of this out-of-control invasive plant, know that the beetles are on the way!
If you encounter this vine, call our Helpline at (352) 395-4600. We may be able to arrange a beetle release in your neighborhood.
Click here for more information on biological control of air potato and a form requesting a release of the beetles. Complete the form and return it to Dr. Eric Rohrig.
U.S. Producers cheered by USDA plans to expand release of parasitic wasp
Citrus growers across the nation, and particularly in California, hailed the U.S Department of Agriculture’s recent announcement that it will spend $1.5 million for efforts to breed and release a tiny parasitic wasp in three states: California, Florida and Texas. The wasp, Tamarixia radiata, will help slow the spread of huanglongbing, or citrus greening, in citrus-producing areas of the U.S.
The disease, which has killed thousands of citrus trees in Florida, is now threatening California’s citrus industry and other citrus-growing regions across the U.S. There are full and partial quarantines in place in at least 14 states and U.S. territories.
Florida has been a pioneer in the use of the wasp to slow the spread of citrus greening. Officials here began a biocontrol program in 1998 after laboratory tests by the Florida Department of Agriculture’s Division of Plant Industry showed T. radiata could kill 90 percent of presented citrus psyllid nymphs. By the early 2000s, T. radiata had been established statewide. In the past 10 years, DPI has continued to import, study and release several biotypes of Tamarixia from throughout Asia, where they occur naturally alongside their psyllid host.
The use of the biocontrol agent against the psyllid is only one tactic being employed against greening. Growers also use insecticides to combat ACP and these sprays destroy beneficial insects like T. radiata as well as the ACP. That means periodic releases of the parasitoids are needed to supplement populations between sprays, during flush cycles and during tree bloom — all periods when insecticides should not be used in order to allow bees to safely forage on the flowers. Releases of the beneficial wasp are coordinated with and complement growers’ spray schedules.
The beneficial wasps are released throughout Florida in conventional, certified organic and abandoned groves, as well as residential areas where dooryard citrus is grown, in an effort to benefit all growers. Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services inspectors identify hot spots where psyllid counts are consistently or periodically high and mark those areas for releases.
Department employees currently scout about 6,000 blocks of citrus throughout the state on a three-week cycle to collect data regarding ACP populations. With permission of landowners, FDACS employees monitor ACP populations in areas where the wasp has been released to monitor the effect.
The biological control program is part of a comprehensive integrated pest management strategy that includes pest/tree scouting, mechanical, chemical and biological control — all valuable elements of a program to control ACP.
January 1, 2014
DPI promotes invasive species programs and biocontrols at Fort Mose
The DPI booth at the first Fort Mose African Market event, held October 12 in St. Augustine, proved to be popular with the public. The “Don’t Pack A Pest” invasive species message was shared with hundreds of people, and DPI staff spoke with local folks, Floridians from other cities, out-of-state visitors and guests from other countries including Africa and the United Kingdom. There was a lot of interaction and conversation about invasive species and a lot of interest in the booth’s live display of the new biological control beetle, Lilioceris cheni, for managing the invasive air potato vine.
At the end of the day, Park Service employees witnessed DPI scientists release the beetles for the first time in St. Johns County at Fort Mose Historic State Park. Before this new tool was developed, the park had been holding annual “Air Potato Roundups.” Information and a large poster display of the new biological beetle will be displayed in the Natural and Environmental Area of the park’s museum.
October 28, 2013
The Alachua County Fair has come and gone for another year. Volunteers from FDACS-DPI spent quite a few hours manning our fair display and chatting with fairgoers about our work to detect, intercept and control plant and honey bee pests that threaten Florida’s native plant and agricultural resources.
One of the FDACS-DPI projects on display included the air potato beetle we are rearing and distributing around the state. The beetle attacks only the air potato vine, which is an invasive plant commonly encountered in Alachua County. The beneficial beetles have been released in the county and some attendees told us they have observed them muching away on air potato vines in their neighborhoods in northwest Gainesville.
Wacky Wednesday came with a Halloween theme when this office temp made a brief appearance in our Apiary section.
We expect ghosts, ghouls and other spooks will continue to haunt our halls this week, culminating in the annual chili cookoff and costume competition that takes place at noon Thursday at our Gainesville headquarters, organized to raise donations for the Florida State Employees Charitable Campaign.
Happy Halloween, Y’all.