Move over, Covid-19; there’s a new quarantine in town.
Nearly 80 square miles of Los Angeles County have been placed under a produce quarantine, which warns residents not to move fruits and vegetables from their homes. Why? Because more than two-dozen Tau fruit flies have been discovered on farms in Stevenson Ranch, California, and agricultural officials are hoping to stop the spread before it gets any worse.
Also known as the pumpkin fruit fly — or Zeugodacus tau, if you’re a scientist — the tau fruit fly is native to Asia. These pests are only 7 mm long, but they’re still capable of causing significant damage to the agricultural economy. They accomplish this by laying eggs on fresh fruit and vegetables, including melon, cucumber, avocado, tomato, and citrus. The larvae that hatch from these eggs subsequently create tunnels through the produce and feed on the fruit deep inside, resulting in decay, rot, and destruction of the produce itself.
“It’s believed the fly was introduced by travelers bringing uninspected produce into the state — a common pathway for invasive species,” reads a press release from the California Department of Food and Agriculture, which announced the quarantine on July 25.
The press releases goes on, specifying that “residents living in the quarantine area are urged not to move any fruits and vegetables from their property. They may be consumed or processed (i.e. juiced, frozen, cooked, or ground in the garbage disposal) at the property where they were picked. Otherwise, they should be disposed-of by double-bagging in plastic and placing the bags in a bin specifically for garbage.”
The fruit fly has invaded California three times since it was first discovered in San Bernardino County in 2016. Each time, the invasion was contained and successfully eliminated. The California Department of Food and Agriculture aims to do the same to the current invasion by focusing on properties with 200 meters of any fruit fly detections. “Staff will cut host fruit and vegetables to inspect for any fruit fly larvae that may be present,” says the department. “Additionally, properties within 200 meters of detections will be treated with a naturally derived organic-approved material known as Spinosad, which will help remove any live adult fruit flies and reduce the density of the population.” As a final precaution, the department plans to use “fly traps that incorporate a pheromone lure and a minute amount of pesticide” across a wider area to ensure total eradication of the pests.
Local growers outside of the quarantine zone have begun taking their own precautions. At regional farmers markets, it’s become common to see produce vendors utilizing net coverings to protect their produce. After all, the state’s $51 billion ag industry is responsible for feeding much of America, and a single pest — even one that’s as small as a house fly — could ruin not only an entire crop, but an entire industry, as well.