Palm Beach County residents can help manage a potential outbreak of the Q-biotype whitefly through early detection and identification of the insect, a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researcher said Thursday.
This significant tropical and subtropical pest may threaten Florida crops such as tomatoes, squash, beans, watermelons and many other vegetables and ornamentals if immediate measures are not taken to prevent its spread. Known scientifically as Bemisia tabaci, the Q-biotype is a light-colored, flying insect slightly less than 1 millimeter in length.
Thus far, the Q-biotype whitefly has been reported in all four quadrants of Palm Beach County – north, east, south and west – said Lance Osborne, a UF/IFAS entomology professor.
To find and detect this whitely, residents should first look at hibiscus plants because those are host plants to which this whitefly species will likely gravitate. They should also take a look at their poinsettia plants, Osborne said. There are two types of this whitefly species: Q-biotype and B-biotype, and they look virtually the same, so it’s critical to get a genetic analysis to determine if you have the Q-biotype whitefly.
People should not spray the plants with any pesticides until they know exactly what pest they are dealing with. In the case of the Q-biotype, which is resistant to almost any pesticide the general public would have access to, applying anything but soaps or oils might worsen the situation, he said.
This marks the first time the Q-biotype of Bemisia tabaci has been found outside a greenhouse or nursery in the United States since it was found on an ornamental plant in a greenhouse in 2004-2005, said Osborne, a faculty member at the UF/IFAS Mid-Florida Research and Education Center in Apopka, Florida.
The following measures are recommended to control the spread of Q-biotype whitefly:
Homeowners who suspect they have a whitefly infestation should contact their UF/IFAS Extension county office. Office locations may be found at http://bit.ly/1Q8wguw.
For identification purposes, infested leaves and dead insect specimens should be brought to local Extension offices. Wrap in a dry paper towel and place in a seal-able plastic bag and then in an envelope. Freezing the specimen overnight before transport is highly recommended. Live insects should not be transported.
The collection information should be included with the sample. Date, location, what type of vegetation is affected, number of suspected whiteflies, and any information about whether a pesticide has been used on the plant, is helpful information to managing the pest. For steps on how to submit a sample to FDACS DPI, visit http://www.freshfromflorida.com/Divisions-Offices/Plant-Industry/Business-Services/Submit-a-Sample-for-Identification.
- Because new populations have built up resistance to chemicals, it is recommended that suspected whitefly infestations be confirmed before chemically treating the insects, as it may be needless to spray pesticides.
- Landscapers and pest control operators should inspect for signs of whitefly pests, communicate with neighboring properties and homeowners associations, employ good management and growing practices, and implement whitefly management guidelines available at http://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/lso/bemisia/bemisia.htm.
- Nurseries that suspect whitefly infestations should contact the FDACS Division of Plant Industry at 1-888-397-1517.