Ag officials introduce wasp to fight Asian citrus psyllid

The Tamarixia radiata is native to Pakistan and is a natural predator of the Asian citrus psyllid. It's small enough to fit inside the period at the end of this sentence. (Photo credit: Citrus Pest & Disease Prevention Program)

Concerned about a disease that decimated citrus crops in Florida, local and state agriculture officials on Tuesday took a new step in their fight against the Asian citrus psyllid. The psylllid can be a carrier of a disease officials have dubbed "HLB," an incurable ailment that renders citrus trees worthless.

HLB has been found in more than two dozen trees in Los Angeles County. Kern County has the psyllid, but so far, not the disease. With an annual crop valued at close to $1 billion, farmers here aren't taking any chances.

"We would like to find a cure or a control for the disease, but that's going to take time," said Kern County Agricultural Biologist David Heard. "And so to buy us some time, the strategy is to eliminate or reduce the psyllid population as much as we can.

The savior, officials say, is Tamarixia radiata, a tiny wasp native to Pakistan. It's small to fit inside the period at the end of this sentence and it's a natural predator of psyllid. Officials released thousands of them Tuesday throughout Bakersfield.

Large commercial orchards continue to use pesticides, officials say, so the wasps are meant to safeguard backyard trees in urban areas.

The wasps pose no threat to people. Officials insist residents need not be concerned about them inhabiting their neighborhoods. It's likely you'll never even see them.

"You really shouldn't be worried about these," said Dr. David Morgan, a biological control program manager for the state. "They don't have stingers that can get through our skins and they only kill the pest insect, so they don't affect any other insect."

The fact the wasps only target one kind of prey ensures that Bakersfield won't eventually have a wasp problem.

"If the insect can't find the pest, it'll die. That's all there is to it," Morgan said.

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