A fruit fly apparently never seen before on the North American continent has been discovered in a Granada Hills peach tree, state and local agricultural officials said Monday.
The fly was found Friday in an insect trap hanging in a backyard tree on White Oak Avenue, in a residential area, authorities said.
The dead insect was immediately flown to Sacramento, where state entomologists spent Saturday trying to identify it before conceding defeat. On Sunday, they sent it to experts in Hawaii. On Monday, worried Los Angeles County agricultural inspectors installed 130 additional fly traps in a nine-square-mile area of Granada Hills and Northridge to check for a possible infestation.
Threat to Crops
Left uncontrolled, fruit flies could endanger California's large commercial citrus crop, as well as thousands of private gardens and orchards, officials said. Affected fruit cannot be sold or shipped.
A 1980 Mediterranean fruit fly infestation that started in the Santa Clara Valley spread in 1981 to Los Angeles County and led to widespread aerial spraying of pesticide and the threat of a federal quarantine of California fruit. Officials spent an estimated $100 million on a two-year eradication effort; losses to growers were estimated at another $73 million.
"All that can be stated with certainty at this time is, that insect is of the \o7 Dakus\f7 species in the same genus as the Oriental fruit fly and the melon fly," said Jera Curry, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Food and Agriculture in Sacramento.
"Our experts took a good long look at it and decided they were unable to identify it in our lab. If they can't identify it in Hawaii, we'll send it on to Australia, where there are more experts," she said.
County officials said the insect was the first fruit fly discovered this year in the San Fernando Valley. They said two other rare fruit flies were found in isolated incidents last week, however. An African pumpkin fly was found in Cerritos, and a guava fruit fly, which is native to India, was discovered in West Los Angeles.
"This tells us people are bringing fruits and vegetables from other countries," said Bob Donley, deputy director of the county Agricultural Department's pest-prevention division.
"It's not frightening unless we start finding more. More flies could mean we have an infestation," he said.
The Granada Hills fly was discovered in a trap behind the home of Rosine Melcon by trap collector Rosemarie Sanchez. The inside walls of the triangular cardboard trap, one of 150,000 in use in the state, are smeared with a sticky substance containing methyl eugenol, which acts as a sexual lure to fruit flies.
Melcon said she has allowed county officials to hang the traps in her peach, lemon and fig trees for the past two years.
Wide Range of Territory
Donley said that fruit flies typically live for a month and that some species can travel up to 30 miles. He said quick identification of the fly will enable officials to expand the trapping effort, if necessary.
A spokeswoman for the University of Hawaii's Entomology Department, where the fly was flown, said late Monday that it had not yet arrived.
Curry said Granada Hills-area residents should immediately call county agricultural officials "if they should open a home-grown peach and see little white wiggly worms crawling" through it.
"We've been getting very strange and exotic fruit flies in recent years," Curry said. "We're getting to be such a mobile society, and contraband fruit does get sent to California. These things do happen."