Asian fruit fly may plague state next year

Spotted wing drosophila found here

Staff WriterOctober 20, 2010 

— An Asian fruit fly recently discovered in North Carolina could create problems next year for gardeners and commercial farmers who grow small fruits such as blueberries and apples.

A county extension agent in Asheboro this past summer captured the state's first confirmed spotted wing drosophila in a trap in her backyard. The fruit fly, native to cooler parts of east Asia, was discovered in the mainland United States in California in fall 2008. By 2009, it had appeared in Florida, said Hannah Burrack, an extension specialist and assistant professor of entomology at N.C. State University.

"We don't have a clear idea of how it got into the U.S.," Burrack said.

A taste for soft skin

Fruit flies typically feast on the fungus of rotting fruit, Burrack said, which is why they appear in your kitchen near overripe bananas. But the spotted wing drosophila feeds on fresh, soft-skinned fruits, which means it can cause much more damage. The Asian pest is capable of destroying 20 percent of a fruit crop.

After its appearance in Florida, Burrack organized a trapping project in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia to gauge the fly's migration. Adult flies were trapped during the summer, and the first significant North Carolina larval infestation was discovered in September at the Upper Mountain Research Station in Ashe County, in the northwest corner of the state.

The flies found this year were discovered after most of the state's small fruit had been harvested, so their true effect won't begin to be felt until next year.

"It's going to be another added challenge that growers have to deal with," said Burrack, who emphasized that common insecticides have been effective with spotted wing drosophila on the West Coast.

But fighting the flies could mean a change in routine for backyard gardeners, saidMary Helen Ferguson, the Randolph County extension agent who trapped the first fly.

"There are so few problems with blueberries that most gardeners would never need to spray a blueberry plant," Ferguson said.

The flies have not been confirmed on commercial farms, although there have been reports that need to be investigated.

"It's causing significant issues for the folks on the West Coast," Burrack said. In North Carolina, "we'll see where it shows up and in what numbers next year."

matt.ehlers@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4889

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