Mystery bug vomit threatens Florida palm trees

By Tamara Lush, The Associated Press

11:41 a.m. EDT, August 30, 2011

ST PETERSBURG—

An insect with a disgusting habit is killing palm trees in the Tampa Bay area and experts are worried the disease transmitted by the bugs will affect trees around the state.

The first Florida sighting of Texas Phoenix Palm Decline was in 2005 in Manatee County. Since then, it’s been detected in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Polk counties, although experts say Manatee County is still the hardest-hit area.

According to University of Florida‘s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, the disease is spread by a planthopper insect but the exact kind of bug isn’t yet known. The insects pierce the palm leaves, then vomit — and the vomit spreads the bacteria that causes the disease.

The small bacteria, called phytoplasma, affects the bottom palm leaves first. Those leaves turn yellow and eventually die, then the bacteria affects the young spear leaf and eventually the entire tree is killed.

“It’s pretty scary,” said Brian Dick, assistant superintendent for parks in the city of Lakeland. “We’ve invested quite heavily in our palm trees over the past 25 years. To have a disease come out of nowhere and kill our palm trees, it’s pretty disappointing.”

Dick estimates that 20 to 30 percent of the city’s 700 Phoenix palms — a type of tree that includes the expensive and showy Sylvester palm — are infected with the disease. An unknown number of sabal palms within the city are also infected, he said.

Monica L. Elliott, a professor of plant pathology at the University of Florida’s Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center, said it’s troubling that the state tree — the native sabal palm — is also affected by the disease.

While landscapers and cities can manage the condition with antibiotic injections, that’s only likely to happen with expensive trees. It’s less feasible to do so in wild sabal palms, she said.

If the condition spreads throughout the state, Elliot said it could change the entire Florida landscape.

“We would be losing a large population of a native palm that is found throughout the entire state. We wouldn’t see it in the natural areas,” she said.

Elliott and other UF researchers are trying to determine which planthopper insect is responsible for the Texas Phoenix Palm Decline. The insect and disease was first detected 30 years ago in Texas.

Texas Phoenix Palm Decline is similar to lethal yellowing, a disease which largely affects coconut palms in South Florida.

Palm decline has been spotted as far east as Lakeland and as far south as Sarasota. A few trees planted by landscapers in north Florida have also been found to be infected. But the disease is less likely to sweep into northern Florida; the insect and the bacteria can’t survive in cold weather.

Jane Morse, a commercial horticulture extension agent for Pinellas County, said the disease spreads rapidly and must be treated quickly with antibiotics.

“You don’t want to leave any infected trees around. They act as a source of infection,” she said.

Morse and other tree experts added that tree owners shouldn’t over-prune their palms because then the disease becomes harder to detect.

Copyright © 2011, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Ant Control Questions ~ Hulett Environmental Services

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MOST COMMON SPECIES OF ANTS?

There are more than 700 species of ants in the United States. Some of the most common include argentine, carpenter, odorous house, pavement and red imported fire ants.

All ants are social insects that live in colonies. They can be identified by their three distinct body regions: head, thorax, and abdomen. However, the biology and habits of each ant species is different and understanding these differences is necessary to effectively control an infestation.

WHERE AND WHEN ARE YOU MOST LIKELY TO ENCOUNTER ANTS?

It depends on the species, but ants are commonly attracted to the food in a kitchen, especially sweets and protein-containing substances. Ants are most often found on floors, countertops and in food items. Some species prefer to build nests in soil – such as landscaping – or cracks in concrete on your driveway, walkway or in your garage. Carpenter ants build nests in wood. Ants are typically found indoors the spring and summer months as they search for food.

SHOULD HOMEOWNERS/RESIDENTS BE CONCERNED IF THEY FIND ANTS IN THEIR HOME?

Most species of ants are considered ‘nuisance pests,’ meaning that they don’t pose a significant threat to health or property, but are an annoyance when found indoors. In fact, ants are the number one nuisance pest in the United States

Some species of ants, however, can pose threats to health and property. Carpenter ants, for example, excavate wood in order to build their nests, which can cause extensive damage to a structure. Fire ants, on the other hand, sting when threatened, resulting in painful welts that can be dangerous to allergic persons. These species should always be handled by a professional.

Regardless of the species all ants can contaminate food sources and small infestations can grow quickly, so any sign of an infestation should be dealt with promptly.

WHAT IS THE MOST EFFECTIVE TYPE OF ANT TREATMENT AND HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?

A trained and licensed pest professional is the best person to make a recommendation based on the proper identification of a particular ant species and the threats they could pose to health and property. Also, homeowners may have a preference as to which treatment is used, so it is important that they have a detailed conversation with their pest control company.  The cost of the treatments can vary depending on the size of the infestation and the property being treated.

WHAT CAN A HOMEOWNER DO TO CONTROL ANT INFESTATIONS?

There are as many ways to control ants as there are species of ants! Different species eat different things – making it almost impossible to inspect a single area and control the ant population.  The best strategy homeowners can employ when attempting to control ants is to clean, clean, clean. Wipe down counters, regularly remove garbage, clean up grease spills, rinse and remove empty soda cans or other recyclables and mop/sweep the floors. Homeowners should also keep food in sealed containers and keep pet food/water dishes clean. Outside the home, eliminate sources of moisture or standing water such as birdbaths or kiddie pools. Finally, seal cracks and holes around the home to close entry points.

ANY OTHER TIPS?

If homeowners are worried that they have an ant problem, they should call a pest professional to identify the species and recommend a course of action.

Watch for beetle activity at night

Watch for beetle activity at night

By Adrian Hunsberger

dade@ifas.ufl.edu

Q. I have small brown beetles eating up my loquat trees. What should I do since my trees have fruit?

It’s very hard to tell from leaf samples what exactly caused the feeding damage. I suspect it’s the Cuban May beetle. Check at night. You’ll see tan beetles on the leaves. Place a white plastic bucket under the tree at night containing a few inches of soapy water. The beetles are attracted to the white bucket and will drown in the soapy water.

As the summer progresses, you will see fewer of these insects. These beetles won’t harm the tree unless the tree is small and all the new leaves get devoured.

Insect samples

Send undamaged (live or dead) insects in a crush-proof container such as a pill bottle or film canister with the top taped on. Mail them in a padded envelope or box with a brief note explaining where you found the insects.

Do not tape insects to paper or place them loose in envelopes. Insect fragments or crushed insect samples are almost impossible to identify.

Send them to the address of your county extension office, found in the blue pages in the phone book under county government.

Adrian Hunsberger is an entomologist/horticulturist with the UF/IFAS Miami-Dade Extension office. Write to Plant Clinic, 18710 SW 288th St., Homestead, FL 33030; e-mail aghu@ifas.ufl.edu.

Brevard Mosquito Control fighting historic levels of breeding activity

MERRITT ISLAND —

As the entire county experiences heavy mosquito breeding activity, historic levels of breeding are being reported in Merritt Island.

The salt marsh mosquitoes are the main culprit, and are aggressive biters, no matter the time of day.

Mosquito Control said the activity has more than doubled over the past few years.

They are working seven days a week conducting field counts, monitoring traps and killing adult mosquitoes and larvae.

The salt marsh mosquito is not disease carrying, and there is no virus activity in the county from fresh water mosquitoes.

For information about the areas scheduled to or have been treated, visit the Mosquito Control’s website. http://www.brevardcounty.us/mosquito/