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Oriental fruit flies found near Rancho Cordova

Eradication efforts underway to stop the spread of this highly destructive pest

Have you seen this bug? It's an oriental fruit fly and potentially devastating to fruit, grapes, tomatoes and peppers.

Have you seen this bug? It's an oriental fruit fly and potentially devastating to fruit, grapes, tomatoes and peppers. Photo courtesy of Martin Hauser/California Department of Food and Agriculture

 

It only takes two pests to create a huge problem – if those two are opposite sexes. So when Sacramento County agriculture officials were alerted to the discovery of nine oriental fruit flies, they flew into action.

Sacramento County said this week that eradication efforts and trapping are underway near Rancho Cordova along the American River Parkway. A quarantine prohibiting the movement of fruit and vegetables out of this area could be announced soon by the state’s Department of Food and Agriculture.

According to the county, the bad bugs were first discovered Sept. 12. Traps designed to lure male fruit flies have been set up in overlapping circles that extend 1.5 miles from each confirmed detection in an attempt to stop the invasive insects before they can spread farther across the county and Northern California.

Fortunately, all nine flies were male – no females have been detected, yet. But how did these male flies get here?

Most likely, they got here in a piece of fruit such as an orange or apple or even a tomato or pepper. A tourist may have brought the infested fruit back home to Sacramento County after a visit to Hawaii, where fruit flies have invaded, or even other parts of California that are battling these pests.

Or the culprit fruit may have arrived via a homegrown fruit basket shipped from Asia or Africa, where these fruit flies have taken hold.

These sort of infestations almost always start in someone’s kitchen or backyard – not on commercial farms or orchards, notes the county ag office.

“While fruit flies and other invasive species that threaten California's crops and natural environment are sometimes detected in agricultural areas, the vast majority are found in urban and suburban communities,” it said Wednesday. “The most common pathway for these pests to enter the state is by ‘hitchhiking’ in fruits and vegetables brought back illegally by travelers as they return from infested regions of the world or from packages of homegrown produce sent to California.”

Portions of two Bay Area counties -- Contra Costa (around Brentwood) and Santa Clara (around the city of Santa Clara) -- on Sept. 12 were placed under quarantine for the oriental fruit fly following the detection of multiple flies in each county.  Much of the city of Sacramento was placed under quarantine for the oriental fruit fly in August 2018. That quarantine lasted nine months, until June 2019.

Oriental fruit flies represent a huge threat to California crops – both on farms and in backyards.

“The oriental fruit fly is known to target over 230 different fruit, vegetable and plant commodities,” says the ag office. “Important California crops at risk include grapes, pome and stone fruits, citrus, dates, avocados, tomatoes and peppers. Damage occurs when the female fruit fly lays her eggs inside the fruit. The eggs hatch into maggots, which tunnel through the flesh of the fruit, making it unfit for consumption.”

To catch the pests, traps are hung 8 to 10 feet off the ground in trees or on lamp posts. Each trap is baited with fruit fly attractant to lure the male flies plus a tiny dose of Spinosad, a natural pesticide to kill the bugs.

In addition, other traps have been hung within 4.5 miles of the sightings to monitor any spread of the fruit flies. Sacramento County successfully corralled past infestations with this same method.

“Invasive non-native fruit flies are serious pests for California's agricultural industry and backyard gardens,” said Sacramento County Agricultural Commissioner Chris Flores. “These recent detections remind us that we need to remain vigilant in protecting our agricultural and natural resources. When traveling abroad or mailing packages to California, we urge the public not to bring back or ship fruits and vegetables as they are pathways for oriental fruit flies and other invasive species entering our state.”

Ag officials ask Sacramento County residents to be on the lookout for these bad bugs. Call the Sacramento County Agricultural Commissioner's office at 916-875-6603 or the California Department of Food and Agriculture's Pest Hotline at 1-800-491-1899.

Here's the CDFA's description of the pest: "The adult oriental fruit fly is somewhat larger than a housefly, about 8 mm in length. The body color is variable but generally bright yellow with a dark "T" shaped marking on the abdomen. The wings are clear. Eggs are minute cylinders laid in batches. The maggots (larvae) are creamy-white, legless, and may attain a length of 10 mm inside host fruit."

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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

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