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Agriculture officials warn Glendale residents about citrus pest

The Asian citrus psyllid can be devastating to citrus trees. It was first discovered in Glendale and other L.A. County cities two years ago, and eradication efforts are being re-energized.

October 23, 2011|By Jason Wells, Los Angeles Times
  • Asian citrus psyllids, shown in a University of Florida photo provided by UC Davis, can spread citrus greening disease — and potentially ravage California's citrus industry.
Asian citrus psyllids, shown in a University of Florida photo provided… (Michael Rogers / University…)

An aphid-like citrus pest with a history in Glendale has prompted another warning to residents to report infestations to state agricultural officials.

The Asian citrus psyllid is not harmful to humans, but it can be devastating to citrus trees if it is carrying a fruit-destroying disease that has no cure. The so-called greening disease, which so far has been kept from spreading north of the Mexico border, destroys the taste of fruit and kills the tree within five years, said Beth Grafton-Cardwell, a UC Riverside research entomologist based in the Central Valley.

The citrus psyllid, which can be difficult to spot, acts as a carrier for the disease, and if the pest hitches a ride north on produce transports into California, the effect would be "pretty devastating," she added.

The insect was first discovered in Glendale and other Los Angeles County cities two years ago, and officials said they were ramping up education efforts in affected areas as a coalition of agri-business groups and government agencies re-energize eradication programs.

Even as researchers and scientists work "fast and furious" on a possible vaccine, Grafton-Cardwell said, there is little defense other than tracking and trying to eradicate the bug to minimize its potential reach.

A huge infestation in the Los Angeles area has been gradually spreading in all directions, Grafton-Cardwell said, adding that although agricultural officials are working to contain the pest, "it's bigger than what they can really handle."

Officials called on homeowners and gardeners to report infestations to the California Department of Food and Agriculture's exotic-pest hotline at (800) 491-1899. "We want to encourage homeowners to do their part before it's too late," said Ted Batkin, president of the Citrus Research Board.

Officials recommend inspecting citrus trees monthly, or when watering or pruning, particularly during active growth or flushing. Researchers have deployed so-called sticky strips throughout the state in an effort to snare the pests as they spread.

Two types of insecticide are typically used to treat infestations, one of which is ground-based and absorbed by tree roots, Grafton-Cardwell said.

More information on how to identify the Asian citrus psyllid is available at http://www.californiacitrusthreat.org.

jason.wells@latimes.com

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