Mexican Fruit Fly Spotting Hatches Pulp Fears

LOS ANGELES -- Crop-destroying Mexican fruit flies have been discovered in Azusa, prompting state agriculture officials to launch eradication efforts to protect California's agricultural industry, it was announced Tuesday.

Four Mexican fruit flies, including one mated female, have been discovered since Dec. 3.

"Finding one (fly) doesn't prompt much response," said Ken Pellman, spokesman for the county agricultural commissioner. "Two is enough."

Especially when one is a mated female, he said. Mexican fruit flies lay eggs in fruit in groups of about 10, that hatch in just six to 12 days. The larvae then eat their way out through the pulp of fruit, destroying it.

The finds come amid ongoing efforts to combat the Oriental fruit fly, which was discovered in the western San Gabriel Valley in late July.

Pellman was optimistic about the efforts against the Oriental fruit fly, noting that the most recent specimen was discovered on Oct. 29.

Discovery of the Oriental fruit fly in July came less than one week after state agriculture officials declared victory over a third variety, the Mediterranean fruit fly, which had infested portions of the county since 2007.

All three varieties of fruit fly known to attack cultivated crops, imperiling the state's $32 billion agricultural industry.

To combat the flies, officials from the California Department of Food and Agriculture have been applying pesticide-laced bait to trees.

Starting Tuesday, the California Conservation Corps will help the agency to strip fruit from 64 properties within 100 meters of the sites at which the most recent fly specimens were found, double-bagging the fruit and burying it in a landfill.

Although no aerial treatments are planned, CDFA officials will also release hundreds of thousands of sterile male Mexican fruit flies per square mile in a 13-mile area around the find sites, in hopes of disrupting the flies' reproductive cycle.

Also, a quarantine restricting the movement of fruit and vegetables from or through the Azusa area has been established.

"That mainly affects professionals," such as grocers, Pellman said. "The average person won't notice the quarantine."

Given the size of Los Angeles and the fact that it serves as a major shipping thoroughfare, the continued discovery of foreign pests was not especially surprising, Pellman said.

"Most likely somebody's brought some fruit in that didn't go through proper channels," he said.

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