MIAMI — An invasive and destructive pest has been identified in the farmlands near Miami, Florida agriculture officials said Tuesday.
Three male Oriental fruit flies have been found in traps in south Miami-Dade County since Friday, said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
The state is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to eradicate the flies. They are considered one of the world's most serious agricultural pests because of their potential economic harm.
The Oriental fruit fly (Bactrocera dorsalis) lays eggs in more than 430 different fruits, vegetables and nuts. An infestation could be particularly damaging for growers of mangoes, lychees and other tropical fruit crops that were battered by Hurricane Irma in September.
"South Dade County is home to our tropical fruit industry in the state of Florida. It's a $2 billion industry just in Miami-Dade County," Putnam said after making the announcement at a USDA research station.
"The risk is, you would have a quarantine if we find a female or evidence of a breeding population. A quarantine would mean that crops currently being harvested would not be allowed to leave the area, and that would cause economic devastation to these growers who are still recovering from Irma."
To eradicate the pest, bait is being spread on utility poles, trees and other objects throughout a 1.5-square-mile (4-square-kilometer) area around the traps where the first flies were found. The flies die after feeding on the bait.
Nearby homeowners with fruit trees in their yards also are being asked not to take that fruit off their properties.
Investigators are trying to determine how the flies arrived in the county.
"Unfortunately, the state of Florida is a magnet for pests and disease because of our subtropical climate and the international travel that takes place in and out of our state," Putnam said.
Oriental fruit flies are native to a broad area from Pakistan and India, across southeast Asia and into Malaysia and the Philippines. They have been found in Florida several times since the 1960s. An infestation in 2015 in Miami-Dade County took six months to eradicate.