Then, cars downtown started showing the sticky signs of an advance, though at the time no one knew what the little spots on their cars were.
Recently, a call came in from the Gasparilla Inn, and the invasion was confirmed.
Gasparilla Island is under attack by the Rubose Spiraling Whitefly (Aluerodicus dispersus), also known as the Gumbo Limbo Whitefly. This Central American native was first spotted in Miami-Dade in 2009, and was in Southwest Florida by 2011.
While the insect is not as deadly as its cousin, the fig whitefly, it brings with it a host of annoyances and dangers to plants.
The spiraling whitefly clusters on the underside of the leaves of the host plant, which can be any one of several species: gumbo limbo, black olive, varieties of palm, live oak, cocoplum, mango and several others.
They feed on the leaves and reproduce there. The eggs are laid in a spiral pattern, for which the fly is named. They cover the eggs with a waxy substance to protect them from the elements.
Beyond the whitefly feeding on the plant, the most damaging aspect of an infestation is the “honeydew” that the whitefly produces.
Honeydew is a sugary substance that the fly excretes which attracts and feeds sooty mold. A
ccording to the University of Florida Extension Service, “The actual effect of an infestation on the health of a plant is unknown; however, whiteflies in general can cause plant decline, defoliation and branch dieback.”
The whitefly can be managed, though the effectiveness of different chemical methods can wane over several years.
The first step is to monitor your plants. If you catch an infestation early, whiteflies are much easier to manage. If you do find a plant with whiteflies, check the plants around it, because the spiraling whitefly has such a large range of host plants that it can feed on.
The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Services Extension website for Monroe County has information on identifying and combating the whitefly. It is at monroe.ifas.ufl.edu. Simply click on the Pest Alert on their front page, and you will be taken to a page of links about the pest, including pictures of the fly, its eggs and the sooty mold that is a hallmark of its presence.
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