Bug Blog

Citrus Pest on the Move

Citrus Pest on the Move

The Asian citrus psyllid (ACP) or Diaphorina citri Kuwayama, is a very prevalent pest in southern Asia. The insect is of importance in several countries because it is a carrier of a serious citrus disease called greening disease or Huanglongbing. This disease is responsible for the destruction of several citrus industries in Asia and Africa. Until recently, the Asian citrus psyllid did not occur in North America or Hawaii, but was reported in Brazil.

In June 1998, the insect was detected on the east coast of Florida, from Broward to St. Lucie counties. By September 2000, this pest had spread to 31 Florida counties. The ACP is destroying trees in many countries and states. It’s been estimated that this insect and disease has cost the Florida citrus industry $1.3 billion in losses. The situation has become so bad that some citrus growers have abandoned their fields leaving their trees untended, which can have dire consequences for neighboring growers.

A recent article published in the Journal of Economic Entomology by Florida entomologists shows that the ACP can travel at least two kilometers in a twelve-day period, and they are able to traverse potential geographic barriers such as roads and fallow fields.  Little is known about ACP long-range dispersal capabilities or the seasonality of their flight behavior. In order to learn more, researchers used an ‘in situ protein-marking technique along with traps placed in managed and abandoned groves.’

“One marks the insects by spraying a benign protein onto the crop—for example milk or soy protein—and the insects pick it up as they walk across the residue, so they are marked directly in the field,” said Dr. Lukasz Stelinski a co-author of the study. “Then they are recaptured and tested. If you mark area A and you catch a marked psyllid in area B, then you know with 100% certainty that it moved from A to B. It’s like the insect version of tagging an animal and tracking its movement.”