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National Invasive Species Awareness Week is organized to bring attention to the impacts, prevention and management of invasive species – and all those who are working toward healthy, biodiverse ecosystems. Florida knows all too well about the impact of invasive species and how they can damage our fragile environment. Below are just a handful of the current invasive species plaguing Florida’s natural area and threatening our agriculture.

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Giant African Land Snails

In 2011, FDACS began an eradication program to address a large infestation of giant African land snails in Miami-Dade county. The giant African land snail is one of the most damaging snails in the world because they consume at least 500 different types of plants, can cause structural damage to buildings due to consumption of plaster and stucco, and can carry a parasitic nematode that can cause a form of meningitis in humans. The snail is one of the largest land snails in the world, growing up to eight inches in length and more than four inches in diameter. With a life expectancy of close to nine years and the ability to reproduce rapidly eradication s essential to protecting Florida.

As of February 2017, over 166,000 GALS have been destroyed and the program is on track to achieve eradication in the next four years.

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Asian Citrus Psyllid

The Asian citrus psyllid was found for the first time in the U.S. in 1998 in Delray Beach, FL., but no associated Huanglongbing (HLB) infection was found at that time. Agriculture officials imposed quarantines and took other actions to control the spread of the psyllid. However, with the abundance of citrus and other hosts present in the state, psyllid populations grew and became established. As the vector for HLB, it is critical to try to manage the Asian citrus psyllid populations in Florida. The division rears and releases hundreds of thousands of Tamarixia radiata, a beneficial parasitic biological ____ insect that attacks Asian citrus psyllids.

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Fruit Flies

Exotic fruit flies are considered some of the most serious of the world’s agricultural pests due to their potential economic harm and threat to our food supply. They attack hundreds of different fruits, vegetables, and nuts, including oranges, grapefruit, lemons, apples, guava, mango, tomatoes, and peppers. Exotic fruit flies include: Mediterranean, Oriental, melon, Mexican, guava and peach to name a few.

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Michael C. Thomas, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Bugwood.org

Redbay Ambrosia Beetle

The redbay ambrosia beetle spreads a fungus causing laurel wilt disease as it bores into healthy trees in the laurel family. The beetle may spread the disease when it migrates from infested trees to healthy ones. The beetle and disease are also spread when infested plants and wood are moved from one location to another. Susceptible trees include the avocado, red bay, swamp bay, pondspice and silk bay trees – all native to Florida.
A way to identify a tree affected by laurel wilt is to look for toothpick like tubes around the truck of the tree or for piles of fine sawdust, dropping foliage with a reddish or purplish discoloration, or even black discoloration on sapwood surface. Check out SavetheGuac.com to learn more about laurel wilt and the redbay ambrosia beetle.

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Africanized Honey Bees

Honey bees brought to the U.S. in the 1600’s by European settlers soon became one of the most economically beneficial insects. Their gentle nature made them easy to manage. In 1956, researchers in Brazil imported honey bees from Africa in an attempt to create a honey bee that would be better suited to tropical conditions. The thought was that when the African honey bees (AHB) were bred with European honey bees, the African honey bees would lose their most defensive nature. However, that was not the case. In 1957, 26 African queen bees escaped from a breeding program in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Soon the hybrid Africanized honey bees 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 southeast. If you have a wild bee hive in your yard, it is imperative that you take precautions and never try removal without a certified beekeeper.

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Johnny N. Dell, Bugwood.org

Love Bugs

Although invasive, love bugs are generally harmless, except to your car’s paint. Love bugs congregate in swarms and are a big nuisance for motorists. After love bugs die, the fatty tissue left behind can stain clothing and cause holes to form in the paint on a car if not removed quickly.

 

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

Emerald Ash Borer

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 known 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. The EAB is not currently in Florida, to prevent the invasion of emerald ash borers don’t move firewood.

So what can you do?

What can you do to protect Florida’s natural environment from invasive species? Don’t Pack a Pest if you are traveling please declare all agricultural items. Pests travel in all shapes and sizes, by declaring your agricultural commodities you are protecting Florida’s agriculture. Don’t move firewood. Always buy local firewood and buy it where you burn it. Lastly, be aware! If you spot something suspicious such as a giant African land snail, call our helpline at 1-888-397-1517 or email us at DPIHelpline@FreshFromFlorida.com.

An arriving passenger from Nigeria did the right thing last week by declaring six live giant African land snails being transported in luggage. Inspectors at the Houston airport seized the snails February 2, according to this report from the Associated Press.

Linus the Dector DogTravelers face no penalties when they make a truthful declaration to customs and border protection officials. Encouraging international passengers to declare such items is one goal of the Don’t Pack a Pest program, administered by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection.

The program’s website, dontpackapest.com, helps travelers understand what items are prohibited. Signage and videos carrying the program’s message appear in international airports in the U.S. as well as air- and seaports in the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. Johns, U.S. Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands. Panama is expected to join the program during 2015.

GALS Billboard2Giant African land snails reproduce rapidly and are a major threat to landscapes, agriculture, structures and human and animal health. Teams from FDACS are working to eradicate the snails from South Florida and have collected more than 154,000 specimens since they were discovered there in 2012. For more information on the giant African land snail and the eradication program, click here.

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140,000 Snails Eliminated in Miami-Dade County Since Eradication Effort Began

 

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New detector dog teams celebrate certification. From left: Michael Sabato, Omar Garcia with Raider, Bryan Benson, Jodi Daugherty (USDA), Larry Bynum with Bear

 

Black labs Raider and Bear, along with their handlers, graduated yesterday as trained teams to sniff out destructive and invasive Giant African Land Snails in Miami.

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Raider poses with his graduation cap.

The handlers – Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services employees Omar Garcia and Larry Bynum – and their dogs received certification from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Detector Dog Training Facility after a 10-week training period, four weeks at the U.S.D.A. training facility and six weeks of on-the-job training in Miami-Dade County.

“I would like to congratulate the new members of our team, Raider and Bear,” said Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam. “The work of these trained dogs and their handlers will greatly enhance our eradication efforts and ensure that these destructive snails do not spread across the state.”

The dogs were specifically trained to sniff out Giant African Land Snails, known as GALS, a species of snail that is native to Africa and were detected in Florida in 2011. Eradication efforts since that time have eliminated 140,000 snails through dog detector teams, snail bait, regular survey and collection activities, development of experimental trap designs, modification of habitats to eliminate snail hiding places, enhanced inspections of lawn maintenance companies and solid waste facilities, and continued public outreach and education activities.

Through a multifaceted public awareness program, the department is urging Miami-Dade residents to be vigilant of GALS and report any sightings. Residents who believe they have found a snail should call the department’s toll-free helpline: 888-397-1517. About 85 percent of new finds of GALS were from property owners who called the helpline. The GALS have not been found outside of Miami-Dade County.

Scientists consider GALS to be one of the most damaging snails in the world because they are known to consume at least 500 different types of plants. The snails can also cause structural damage to buildings; they consume plaster and stucco to acquire the calcium needed by the snails to grow their large shells. In large numbers, GALS can cause extensive damage.

Public health concerns also surround this and other types of snails and slugs because they can carry a parasite that can cause a form of meningitis in humans and animals.

Originally from East Africa, the Giant African Land Snail, Achatina fulica, is one of the largest land snails in the world, growing up to 8 inches in length. Each snail can live as long as 9 years. In a typical year, an adult can produce about 1,200 eggs.

For more information about the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, visit http://www.FreshFromFlorida.com.

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Dr. Trevor Smith traveled to Barbados in April to deliver a series of public workshops and lectures presenting strategies for the eradication of the giant African land snail (GALS) and other invasive species. As chief of the Bureau of Methods Development and Biological Control, Dr. Smith is a leader of the effort to eradicate the snail from Miami-Dade County. The Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy to Barbados, the Eastern Caribbean and the OECS invited Dr. Smith to Barbados to educate farmers and agricultural officials on the best practices and programs to contain and eradicate the GALS, which pose a serious threat to agriculture and tourism.

Dr. Trevor Smith being interviewed by a TV reporter in St. Lucia during his speaking tour.

Dr. Trevor Smith being interviewed by a TV reporter in St. Lucia during his speaking tour.

“This was a marathon trip with the most packed itinerary I can ever remember having,” said Dr. Smith. “However, I was very well received everywhere I went and each of my lectures led to some great discussion with the audience afterward.”
Upon arriving in Barbados, he was interviewed at the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation television station, met with senior officials of the Ministry of Agriculture and U.S. Ambassador Larry Palmer, and gave a technical presentation. That evening he gave a public lecture at the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic School to about 100 farmers, students, homeowners, representatives of NGOs and other interested parties. The next day he traveled to St. Lucia for a lecture at Sir Arthur Lewis Community College and a technical presentation to representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture, Plant and Animal Quarantine, Ministry of Health and other agencies.
“The folks at the U.S. Embassy did an outstanding job of having everything arranged to the very last detail making what could have been an extremely stressful trip into one that was just very busy,” Dr. Smith said.

Giant snails are denuding the state of vegetation, sickening and threatening the lives of its people and animals – even causing some people to leave the region. Thanks to an on-going giant African land snail eradication program, Florida is not the state in question. But the invasion of giant African land snails has Kerata and some other states in India reeling. In Kerata alone, there are now 59 different pockets of snail populations, according to this report.

Members of the team working to eradicate the giant African snail from Miami-Dade always handle the animals with gloves. Students participating in the Junior Detective Program are advised to report, but not handle, snails.

Members of the team working to eradicate the giant African snail from Miami-Dade always handle the mollusks with gloves. Never let a snail come in contact with your skin and always wash produce from the garden thoroughly.

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A bucket of snails collected in Miami-Dade County.

Kerata residents describe thousands of the slimy mollusks invading homes and gardens, destroying plants and trees. People say they cannot walk at night without crushing snails under their feet. They say the snails leave a mucus trail that causes nausea and, when bodily contact is made with snails, itching. People find them on porches, kitchens, bathrooms, roads and water pipes. The snails are destroying farmers’ crops and plant nurseries.
Experts trace the infestation to the Willinlgdon Island seaport, probably transported on timber imported from Burma. Once introduced, the snails thrive in Kerala’s warm climate.
The giant African land snail is a slimy, voracious agricultural and urban plant pest. It feeds on more than 500 plants and extracts calcium from concrete on the sides of houses. It can grow up to eight inches in length and can live for nine years. Adults typically lay up to 1,200 eggs annually, so populations can quickly grow to the tens of thousands. The snails also pose a health threat: they can carry a parasite that, if ingested, can cause a form of meningitis in humans and animals.
The snail became recognized as widespread in Kerata in 2011, the same year the invasive mollusk was discovered in Miami, Fla. In contrast to the infestation in India, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the United States Department of Agriculture mounted an intensive eradication campaign that has confined the snail to 24 core areas of Miami-Dade County. Full-time teams of inspectors continue to seek out and collect the snails and apply bait in infested areas. They have captured more than 137,000 of the voracious snails and, more frequently now, the snails that are found are dead, the result of a more effective bait that the EPA permitted for use in 2012.
The Miami-Dade community continues to support the eradication efforts. In fact, reports by the public to the Helpline, 1-888-397-1517, have been responsible for 90 percent of the initial finds.
In South Florida, fast action and a long-term commitment by state and federal agencies, coupled with cooperation from the public, continue to protect homes, gardens, landscapes and agricultural crops from the invasive snail. The sad plight of Kerata’s residents illustrates the wisdom of such programs.

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Commissioner with Snail

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam shows the media a giant African land snail shell at a press conference marking the approaching two-year anniversary of the discovery of the snails in Miami-Dade. A joint state/federal eradication program is targeting the snails, which are one of the world’s most damaging crop pests.

SnailLifeStagesGiant 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

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