An insect known to carry a disease that has been devastating to Florida's citrus industry has been found in a bug trap in a citrus grove in Ventura County.
The Asian citrus psyllid, which is the size of a fruit fly, feeds on the leaves of lemon and orange trees. It is also known to carry citrus greening disease, also called Huanglongbing or HLB, that ruins the taste of citrus fruit and juice and then kills the trees. The disease does not affect humans.
This is the first time an Asian citrus psyllid has been found in Ventura County, a key producer of California citrus. Federal officials are testing it to see if it is carrying HLB, according to Jay Van Rein, spokesman for the state Department of Food and Agriculture.
On Monday the department announced that the psyllid had been located in the La Conchita area and that the area would be quarantined. The discovery follows similar insect findings in October in the Montclair and Upland areas east of Los Angeles. Federal, state and local officials have been treating trees in these areas since early this month.
Van Rein said citrus greening disease had not surfaced in California, which has a $1.3-billion citrus industry.
Monday's announcement comes amid an ongoing effort by an international coalition of citrus farming and agriculture officials to stop the spread of this tiny insect, which in addition to hurting the Florida citrus industry has destroyed miles of farmland overseas.
Officials have trapped uninfected psyllids in Los Angeles, Orange, Imperial and San Diego counties, and entomologists say they have been expecting the bug to make its way up to the prime citrus-growing regions of Ventura, as well as further north in Kern, Tulare and Fresno counties. State officials and scientists say they fear that it's only a matter of time before citrus greening disease shows up in California.
According to research by UC Davis Cooperative Extension, Florida is losing as much as 12% of its citrus production annually because of the insect and the disease. The insects and the disease have also destroyed an estimated 100 million trees, according to data compiled by the National Academy of Sciences.