Archive for February, 2011

Fire ants have gained a painful foothold in South Florida

February 28, 2011

Fire ants have gained a painful foothold in South

By Sherry Boas

Red imported fire ants infest more than 275 million acres of land in the United States and Puerto Rico and inject their venom into millions of people annually, according to a University of Arkansas report.

Given the choice of wearing shoes or not wearing shoes, I always opt for going barefoot.

But being barefoot is dicey in a state where the potential for ant bites is great. Floridians whose unshod feet touch the ground are apt to come home with painful stings inflicted by a tiny insect with a long name: Solenopsis invicta Buren.

Nicknamed RIFA, for red imported fire ant, it’s one of two species of fire ants that live in the Sunshine State. The RIFA is widespread, but Florida is also home to a less common species known as the native or tropical fire ant. Neither of the species takes kindly to being stepped on, and they respond to such unwarranted behavior by attacking mercilessly.

If you spend any time outside, you know what I mean. According to a University of Arkansas report, these powerful dirt movers infest more than 275 million acres of land in the United States and Puerto Rico and inject their venom into millions of people annually.

Although we call them ant bites, what we really experience are painful stings.

Fire ants grab the attacker’s skin with their strong mandibles to inject a venom that causes an immediate, localized pain. Within minutes, a red, raised spot usually develops, followed a day later by a white, pimple-like pustule that itches like crazy.

Because each ant can sting repeatedly — and because several ants often attack simultaneously — multiple stings are the norm. It’s not uncommon to run away from a fire-ant encounter with dozens of stings.

Ubiquitous as fire ants are in our lawns, fields, driveways and sidewalks, they were not always a part of the Florida landscape. In the early 1900s, these South American natives made their way into the southern United States by way of cargo ship. Early seafaring vessels used soil as ballast, and it’s likely the dirt-dwelling ants came aboard inadvertently and were then unloaded in America.

Once here, the ants prospered. Colonies multiplied and spread rapidly. Red, imported fire ants now populate every county in Alabama, Florida and Louisiana. They exist in parts of Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Oklahoma, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Puerto Rico. They have even made their way to California, Missouri and across the Pacific to Hawaii.

The insidious fire ants can’t tolerate cold. If temperatures drop to freezing for more than a couple of weeks, the ant colonies die. Fire ants dig into their complex underground burrows for protection. Although they don’t hibernate, they are increasingly less active when it’s cold outside.

Although it isn’t exactly barefoot weather, winter is the safest time to venture outdoors shoeless in Florida. I mention that because as of this past week — if judged by fire-ant activity — winter is officially over. My feet are proof. At the start of the week, I was going barefoot, but by the end of the week, I wasn’t. My toes were so dotted with ant bites that I refused to leave the house without some sort of foot covering.

From an entomological point of view, fire ants are fascinating critters. They have complex social systems, unbelievable strength and an impressive ability to adapt to a broad range of environments. But that doesn’t mean I have to like them.

The bottom line is that these small insects with the big sting are painfully annoying, practically impossible to avoid and incredibly difficult to eradicate. The best we can do is tread carefully and keep a spray bottle filled with vinegar handy. If applied immediately, white vinegar helps quell the discomfort of a fire-ant attack.

Being barefoot may be my preferred state, but practicality trumps preference when it comes to fire ants. I may hate shoes, but I love the way they protect me from ant bites.


Florida Pest Termite & Lawn Services

February 25, 2011

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New ‘super termite’ moving in

February 23, 2011

Florida’s list of non-native bugs causing problems continues to grow, including one nicknamed the “super termite,” also known as the Formosan subterranean termite.

So far the termite hasn’t hit St. Johns County, but it has arrived in Putnam and Duval counties.

“They were first discovered (in the U.S.) in South Florida near Hallandale and then they were discovered in the Panhandle around Fort Walton. From there they’ve just moved in,” said Bruce McCowan, an entomologist with Florida Pest Control in Gainesville.

The Hallandale discovery was made in 1980. University of Florida researchers estimate the termites were actually there five to 10 years earlier.

The Formosan termite has been found in areas around the state in Ocala in Marion County and Leon County and well as Putnam and Duval counties.

The good news about the termite is that “they don’t seem to travel very well. It’s unfortunate if you’ve got them. It’s fortunate they don’t spread very well,” McCowan said.

The Formosan subterranean termite is actually a native of Southern China that was transported to Formosa, Taiwan, where it picked up its name. From there it went to Japan prior to the 1600s. It has slowly spread since, with the first colonies in the U.S. found in the 1960s in Texas, Louisiana and South Carolina.

The South is likely to remain the major target of the Formosan termites since they prefer warmer climates and their eggs don’t hatch at temperatures below 68 degrees.

McCowan said the Formosan termite is “very similar in habits” to native subterranean termites that plague Florida. While their appetites are about the same what’s different is the size of the termite colonies. A subterranean colony can have up to 500,000 termites. The Formosa termite colony can have several million termites.

“There’s that many more mouths in the same amount of space. They really do damage, it’s just the sheer number that do the damage,” he said.

Treatments are available.

“It’s something you don’t want to try yourself. As professionals we do have the ability to control them for you,” he said.

Tenting is rarely needed, he said, noting that’s for dry wood termites, a different breed. Soil treatments are the most common means for controlling the Formosa termites.

“The peculiar thing about Formosa termites is that once they get above ground, if they find moisture from a roof leak or a leaking pipe, they can survive even a soil treatment,” said McCowan.

About Formosan termites

* Sometimes referred to as the “Super Termite”

* Resemble the native subterranean species.

* Colonies can have several million termites

* Found in structures including boats and high-rise condominiums.

* Most aggressive and destructive timber pests in the U.S.

* Also attack non-cellulose materials including plaster and asphalt looking for food and moisture.

* As of 2010, found in Alabama, California (an isolated infestation in San Diego County), Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.

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Swarms of whiteflies worry Bay Harbor Islands

February 22, 2011

The invasive whitefly isn’t just eating away at ficus anymore. It’s attacking gumbo limbos, coconut palms and other shrubs.

The Bay Harbor Islands Town Council voted unanimously to pay an outside company to treat the pests for just under $28,000 at its Monday meeting. They agreed to tap into the town’s Streets and Parkways and Causeways reserves to get the job done.

Town Manager Ronald Wasson explained why he thought council should support the investment.

“Unfortunately, this is the kind of pest you can’t go to Home Depot for,” he said. “You need a professional who knows how to handle them.”

Bay Harbor resident Josh Fuller suggested replacing the town’s vulnerable plants with ones whitefly wouldn’t attack. But Wasson said it wouldn’t work.

“It’s a good idea,” said Wasson. “But the problem with whitefly is it’s like playing Russian Roulette. No one knows what plant it’s going to eat next.”

Councilwoman Stephanie Bruder expressed concerns about whether the investment would be effective if residents don’t try to wipe out whiteflies on their properties.

“If we sprayed the town and my neighbor has it and he doesn’t want to spray it, we can’t legally make him spray it,” she said. “If we have the services can we just offer it to everyone? Won’t it just jump if some people don’t spray?”

Legally, the town can only make residents replace dead plants.

Resident Chuck Wallace said he wasted thousands of dollars trying to eradicate the insect from his property. But he suggested whitefly might even make its way over from neighboring coastal municipalities like Bal Harbour and Surfside.

“Maybe since we’re part of a couple islands, we could look into killing all of it otherwise it will come back,” he said. “We should do code enforcement, otherwise it doesn’t make sense to spend $27,000.”

Councilman Robert Yaffe asked about the possibility of extending the service to residents. He suggested sending out educational notices and possible discounts.

Bruce Bernard, project manager at Calvin, Giordano & Associates, Inc, a firm the town uses for many of its projects, was asked for his opinion.

“The best thing to me is giving the residents as many options as you can give them,” said Bernard. “You can try to control them. You’re never going to eradicate them.”

Despite some lingering fear about infected plants spreading whitefly around town, council awarded the $27,840 contract to Spray Pro for insect control and landscape fertilization with one amendment, stipulating the town manager contact Spray Pro on behalf of residents interested in getting rid of their whitefly. Residents can contact Wasson at 305-866-6241

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Disease-carrying Asian citrus psyllids find refuge in abandoned groves, UF study shows

February 21, 2011

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — For years, citrus growers have feared that abandoned groves provided refuge for the Asian citrus psyllid, an invasive insect that transmits citrus greening — now, University of Florida researchers say they were right.

A study published in the current issue of the Journal of Economic Entomology shows that the psyllid not only survives in abandoned groves, it often travels to commercially active groves nearby, bringing along the bacterium responsible for the disease.

First detected in Florida in 2005, greening is incurable and fatal to citrus trees. It is considered the biggest threat to the state’s $9 billion citrus industry. Asian citrus psyllids pick up the greening bacterium by feeding on sap from infected trees and later transmit the pathogen while feeding on healthy trees.

The results underscore the need for landowners to remove or destroy unmanaged trees, something the state is urging, said entomologist Lukasz Stelinski, an assistant professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and one of the study’s authors.

“There was very much anecdotal evidence that these abandoned areas are harboring citrus psyllids,” Stelinski said. “It’s just one of those things that had to be confirmed.”

An estimated 140,000 acres of citrus groves go untended in Florida, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The state has an estimated 550,000 acres of active groves.

Much of the abandoned grove acreage is believed to be owned by developers or investors who expected to clear the land rather than produce citrus, Stelinski said. Consequently, the owners never provided basic management such as pest control.

In the study, Stelinski and colleagues from UF’s Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred sprayed nontoxic “marker” chemicals on trees in seven abandoned groves, where psyllids might be present. They also placed insect traps in nearby commercially active groves.
When the traps were checked, researchers found psyllids bearing the marker chemicals, indicating that the pests had traveled from abandoned groves to active ones. Laboratory analysis revealed that some of these psyllids carried the bacterium that causes greening disease.

Researchers also took leaf samples from citrus trees and found the presence of greening was about the same in abandoned and managed groves. Other members of the research team were Siddharth Tiwari, Hannah Lewis-Rosenblum and Kirsten Pelz-Stelinski, all with UF’s entomology and nematology department.

Stelinski added that as-yet unpublished findings showed the insects could fly up to 1.25 miles in 10 days, and could probably travel farther over time.

“So you don’t necessarily need to be right next to an abandoned grove to be at risk,” he said.

Currently, the state is asking local property appraisers to urge landowners to remove or destroy untended citrus trees by offering tax incentives to do so, said Mike Sparks, executive vice president and chief executive officer of Florida Citrus Mutual, Florida’s largest citrus grower trade organization.

“Even though we’ve had some success, it’s not nearly enough,” Sparks said. “This study could help us mold public policy.”

Sparks said he hopes that the UF research will persuade state and local officials to take further action to reduce the amount of abandoned citrus acreage.

“We have a $9 billion industry and 76,000 jobs at stake,” Sparks said. “Abandoned groves are putting all of that at risk and policymakers need to know that.”


Florida do-it-yourself Pest Termite Lawn Store ~ Melbourne, FL

February 18, 2011

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Homeowner tries to smoke out bees, sets house on fire, causes $50K in damage; bees still there

February 17, 2011

Homeowner tries to smoke out bees, sets house on fire, causes $50K in damage; bees still there

A man attempting to smoke a bee colony out of his suburban Lake Worth home Tuesday, instead started a fire that caused about $50,000 in damage, injured no one and failed to evict the bees, according to Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue.

The fire started before noon at the 2,800-square-foot home at 6500 Sugarcane Lane in the gated equestrian neighborhood of Homeland, fire-rescue spokesman Capt. Don DeLucia said.

The home’s owner, Mario Go, was attempting to smoke out a colony of bees that had moved into a column supporting a second-story balcony or patio, but instead the effort started a fire, DeLucia said.

No one was reported injured by fire or bees, DeLucia said.

Property records indicate that Mario and Lutgarda Go bought the property in 1993, and the home was completed in 1997.

No one returned a call made to the couple’s home Tuesday afternoon seeking comment.

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“Toxic Truck” Driver Lacks State Pest Control Docs

February 16, 2011

“Toxic Truck” Driver Lacks State Pest Control Docs

MIAMI ( – The Miami man who was found in the cab of a fume-filled pest-control pickup truck along I-95 in Palm Beach County Monday apparently was not legally allowed to do pest control work, according to an investigation by

A search of state records indicates Jorge Barahona, who was found in a truck bearing the name CJ’s Pest Control, may have been having trouble with the pest control business he has run from his Southwest Miami-Dade home since March of 1998.

Barahona was found in a truck identifying his business Monday morning, along with a 10-year-old boy said by police to be a foster child in his care. Fumes in the truck sent the Barahona and the boy to the hospital, along with 4 firefighters. A body was found in the truck later in the day, sparking a major investigation.

Barahona and his wife, Carmen, incorporated CJ’s Pest Exterminators Inc. in March, 1998, and operated the business from their home on SW 47th terrace in Southwest Miami-Dade, according to records on file with the Florida Secretary of State.

Neighbors were aware of the business, and some had good things to say about Barahona and how he managed toxic pest-control chemicals.

“He was always very cautious when he did his stuff,” said neighbor Jim Sheppard. “He sprayed my house, and when he came in and sprayed my house he’d always put on a big respirator and ask me to step out. He’s always really cautious and careful about the chemicals.”

But according to state records, Barahona should not have been applying pest control chemicals in any home but his own.

The Florida Department of Agriculture database of licensed pest control operators  shows that while Barahona is a certified operator in good standing for general home pest control, a state ID card he was required to carry to do business in people’s homes expired in August of 2009, and had not been renewed. Without it, “It’s not legal for him go go out and perform pest control,” said a clerk in the Agriculture department’s department of Entomology and Pest Control.

Michael Page, Chief of the Bureau of Entomology and Pest Control, told that Barahona’s company’s license expired November 15th, 2009

There are other apparent lapses in Barahona’s business. In March, 2010, he failed to file a required annual report for CJ’s Pest Exterminators Inc. with the Secretary of State. According to state records, his corporation was dissolved 6 months later, in September 2010.

There is no record Barahona attempted to have the corporation reinstated, which would have required paying a $400 late filing penalty. Instead, in order to have the legal status to maintain a business bank account, Barahona filed a “Fictitious Name” request with the state, paying a $50 fee to use the name CJ’s Pest Control, which was the name on the pickup truck along I-95 Monday.

The state approved that request February 8th, 6 days before Barahona was found inside his truck, with a body in the back.

In Miami-Dade County, the law requires all businesses, including those operating from a home, to obtain a tax receipt. County records show there is no such certificate for Barahona’s address or any of the businesses located there. In addition, some businesses require a certificate of use depending on the type of business and where they operate.

Hilda Castillo, a spokesperson for Miami-Dade Building and Zoning, confirmed Tuesday afternoon that the county has no certificate of use on file for Barahona’s address.

Abandoned groves spread scourge of ‘citrus greening’

February 15, 2011

Abandoned groves spread scourge of ‘citrus greening’

Abandoned groves and foreclosed properties across Central Florida that were purchased by land speculators during the housing boom have become breeding grounds for a disease wreaking havoc on Florida’s $9 billion-a-year citrus industry.

Called “citrus greening,” the disease attacks and kills trees like a “canker on steroids” and makes oranges and other fruit taste bitter and salty. Since the first infected tree was discovered in South Florida in 2005, it has spread like wildfire, growers say. Today, citrus greening has been found in all 32 citrus-producing counties in Florida and is racing across most of the state’s 554,000 acres of groves.

“Greening has the potential to be the most severe threat to our industry,” said Nick Faryna of Faryna Grove Care & Harvesting, which manages about 1,800 acres of citrus in north Lake County. “There’s no light at the end of the tunnel. There’s no magic bullet right now.”

The bacteria that cause greening are generally transmitted by small jumping insects called Asian citrus psyllids that carry the disease from tree to tree like miniature hypodermic needles. And because citrus trees in abandoned groves and foreclosed properties are being neglected, the disease has proliferated and threatens nearby commercial groves, according to citrus experts.

“We estimate that every citrus tree in commercial groves in the state is within a maximum of one mile of the disease,” said Bob Norberg, a deputy executive director for the state Department of Citrus.

Crackdown on ag exemptions urged

The blight is worse than canker, growers say, because citrus greening slowly weakens and eventually kills the trees, whereas canker mostly damages the fruit and the tree. Abandoned and unmaintained properties are a particular concern because the property owners are not aware of the dangers of the disease or cannot afford to treat the trees to prevent it, said Ryan Atwood, Central Florida citrus extension agent for the University of Florida.

Central Florida has about 32,528 acres of abandoned citrus land in Lake, Orange, Osceola, Polk, Seminole and Volusia counties, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A grove is considered abandoned generally when the trees have not been cared for or harvested in the past two years.

Florida has no specific rules for growers to control or eradicate greening, also known as Huanglongbing (HLB) or yellow dragon disease.

Before the disease was discovered, growers harvesting fruit typically spent about $800 annually to treat an acre of citrus trees. That cost has more than doubled to fertilize and spray pesticides to protect from citrus greening. The disease is difficult to detect in its early stages, and leaf samples have to be sent to a laboratory for diagnosis.

“Some landowners will say that’s just too much money,” Atwood said.

The state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has started encouraging counties to allow landowners to continue receiving an agricultural exemption for two years after destroying neglected citrus trees. Ag exemptions dramatically reduce a landowner’s property-tax bill.

Billy Teal, a production manager for Heller Bros. Packing in west Orange County, which tends about 3,500 acres of citrus in Florida, said property appraisers should be aware of the disease and crack down on landowners who receive an ag exemption and have only a small number of citrus trees they don’t harvest.

Some counties, including Lake, have established citrus-health-management areas, where growers within a designated area all agree to spray within a two-week period.

“If everyone sprays together, then it can help eradicate it,” Atwood said.

‘This one is the worst’

Andrew Meadows of Florida Citrus Mutual said Florida growers who have had to deal with freezes, hurricanes, competition from foreign growers and canker in recent years say the incurable disease is a particularly big blow to the industry.

“There’s a lot of concern out there, because unchecked, this could run roughshod over the industry,” Meadows said.

In Umatilla last week, Frank Rogers stood on the edge of a large citrus grove he tends for Faryna Grove Care and sliced open a Valencia orange affected by greening. The orange was much smaller than the healthier oranges, and the tree’s leaves were yellowish.

“We need an answer to this thing,” he said, shaking his head.

But when asked whether Florida should mandate that landowners eradicate untended or unharvested citrus trees, he said: “That’s a tough one to answer. It’s their land, so how do you tell someone to do this or do that? But on the other hand, citrus is a $9 billion industry in Florida.”

Citrus-industry experts say 2 percent to 3 percent of the state’s citrus trees die annually because of pests, bad weather or age. But since greening invaded Florida, 4 percent to 5 percent of trees have been lost each year.

Scientists with the state Department of Citrus are researching ways to stop the spread, including engineering tree varieties more resistant to greening and canker.

The state Legislature enacted a law last year that allows growers to be assessed up to 3 cents per 90-pound box of citrus to pay for disease research, particularly greening. The current assessment is 1 cent; however, those funds were going toward marketing. Money from the higher assessment, which growers asked for, will go to the Citrus Research and Development Foundation. The higher assessment still has to be set by the foundation before taking effect.

For consumers, citrus greening undoubtedly will bring higher juice prices because of less availability of state-grown citrus — including oranges, grapefruits and tangerines — along with higher costs for growers to replace trees that have been lost.

“I’ve seen floods, hurricanes, freezes and cankers. But this one is the worst,” Teal said. “We have to learn to live with it.” or 352-742-5927

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Fruit flies found in South Florida

February 14, 2011

The Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Two Mediterranean fruit flies have been found during routine monitoring in South Florida.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services reported Friday that the flies were found in a residential area of Pompano Beach in Broward County.

State and federal officials are placing 2,000 additional traps in a 50-square-mile area around the positive find. The department is also setting up a certification process for host materials to move in and out of the quarantine zone.

Officials say the Mediterranean fruit fly is considered the most serious of the world’s fruit fly pests because of its potential economic harm and threat to the food supply. It attacks more than 250 different fruits, vegetables and nuts.

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