I love reading about marine life. Yet I seem to write more about bugs, especially those that carry disease, destroy trees, or in some cases, help prevent illness. The root weevil is one evil character that has threatened California citrus crops for years. Hoping to raise public awareness, the California State Department of Agriculture launched a campaign to stop its growth a few years back. Here’s the story (Daily News, Sept. 2006):
In the insect world, the root weevil is one bad bug.
It hitchhikes on fancy nursery plants, then hops off to feed on the leaves of up to 270 plant varieties – everything from citrus to hibiscus, avocado to oak. Its larvae move underground, clinging to and chewing through roots.
And if it’s living the good life, it can survive for up to 18 months.
It’s so bad, it’s even got its own “Wanted” posters, joining the likes of the fruit fly, the gypsy moth and the bark beetle.
“Have you seen this bug?” asks the big red letters sent on postcards to 1.7 million addresses in 29 California counties.
Officials with the California Department of Food and Agriculture hope not.
“This is definitely one of the ones we’d like to get rid of,” Jay Van Rein, a spokesman for the department, said Friday.
“We want to try to get as many eyes on it as we can. The sooner we can find it, the sooner we can get it out.”
This is the first time the state is using mass mailings of this magnitude to alert the public about a pest. Department officials hope postcards will encourage residents to report the bugs, averting a financial disaster that would include expensive quarantines.
In 1994, a $71 million federal eradication plan began after the discovery of the crop-destroying Mediterranean fruit fly.
Aerial sprayings of malathion over Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside counties became common. The quarantine lasted for two years until the bug was eradicated.
Some root weevils already have been found in shipments of plants from Florida and detected in urban landscapes in Newport Beach, Long Beach and San Diego, where small areas have been quarantined.
“It could change the face of urban landscaping here,” Van Rein said.
More worrisome are the citrus groves of Ventura County, where lemons, for example, were a $180 million industry last year.
But the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys also are vulnerable. Large-scale developments that include giant landscaping projects can also be a beacon for the bug.
“It’s considered to be very detrimental, very hard to eradicate,” said Alan Laird, deputy for the Ventura County Agricultural Commission. “We’re a citrus-producing county. It’s definitely a threat to that particular industry.”
The root weevil, slightly longer than a dime, was introduced to Florida in the early `60s from the Caribbean Islands.
“It’s one bad actor,” agreed Bob Blakely, director of growers for the California Citrus Mutual, a 2,000-member strong organization.
“The pest has not been found statewide, but what we want to do is prevent it from being found statewide,” he said. “It only takes one of those to jeopardize whole industries.”
To report sightings of the root weevil, call the California Department of Food and Agriculture hot line, (800) 491-1899.