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Medflies Discovered in Ventura County

October 01, 1994|STEPHANIE SIMON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two female Medflies were discovered Friday morning near a stand of fig trees in Camarillo--the first time trappers have captured the dreaded fruit-gnawing insects in Ventura County.

The find alarmed farmers, who fear that a Mediterranean fruit fly infestation could devastate the county's $848-million agriculture industry.

"Very few things would scare me as much as this," grower Ken Gerry said. "I'm just afraid the Japanese will shut their markets right away."

The county slapped a quarantine on all fruit within a 4.5-mile radius of the Medfly discovery. During the quarantine, county officials will ban the sale or shipment of citrus, vegetables and strawberries growing in that district, said Libby Ouellette, a member of the county's Medfly task force.

This morning, county pest experts will begin hand-spraying a potent blend of poison and bait on foliage within 200 meters of the discovery site. The spray mixes the chemical malathion, which kills adult Medfly, with sweet-smelling corn syrup, which lures the insects to the bait.

But those measures did not reassure farmers who depend on exporting their crops. In warm weather, Medflies reproduce amazingly fast, spawning up to eight generations in a year.

"They're not that hard to kill, but the problem is, they're so prolific, they reproduce so quickly, that you soon have generations upon generations to kill," said David Holden, an agricultural consultant.

After intensive spraying over 500 square miles of Southern California, pest experts believed that they had eradicated the Medfly in 1990. But a year later, the insect reappeared in parts of Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties.

To battle the pests, officials released millions of sterile Medflies, hoping that they would mate with fertile females. Officials also sprayed malathion over parts of Riverside County this year, blanketing the cities of Corona and Norco despite community outcry.

Correspondents Maia Davis and Julie Fields contributed to this story.

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