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 the food supply. They have a wide host range of fruit, vegetables and nuts. Most of Florida’s crops fall within the host range, including the fragile citrus industry.
For this reason, it’s imperative to act quickly when any species of fruit fly is found in a grove.
Eric Rohrig and Antonio Francis, both with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Division of Plant Industry, discussed fruit flies and their potential impact on the industry during the 2021 Florida Citrus Show.
One of the more common citrus fruit flies to wreak havoc on citrus groves is the Caribbean fruit fly. This pest massively colonized southern Florida beginning in 1965 and has since spread to over 30 counties throughout southern, central and eastern seaboard regions of the state. Compared to other fruit flies, it is a relatively minor pest. The Caribfly does not pose a direct threat to Florida citrus production, but considerable management of the pest is necessary to export fruit to certain domestic and foreign markets.
For export, citrus must be certified free from the Carbifly using a combination of survey, trapping and spray applications followed up by inspection and compliance activities in the packinghouse. Learn more about the Caribbean Fruit Fly Protocol Program.
Another fruit fly species that is a pest of citrus is the Mediterranean fruit fly. Luckily, this species has not become established in Florida, and previous eradication efforts in the state have been successful.
Lastly, the Mexican fruit fly is another pest that would require attention if it were to become established in Florida. The fly’s natural distribution includes the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Parts of Texas are currently under quarantine to restrict the movement of the pest.
To protect citrus from these pests, chemical and biological controls have proven to be most effective. Limited spraying of groves has been shown to significantly reduce fruit fly populations. In addition, growers may mass-release sterilized males to interrupt populations. Braconid wasps, which parasitize the larvae of the fruit fly, have also shown excellent reductions in pest populations.
If the Mediterranean fruit fly or Mexican fruit fly were to establish in Florida, much more intense eradication efforts would have to be implemented.