USDA confirms eradication of palm tree pest

The red palm weevil, considered to be one of the world’s most destructive pests of palms, has been eradicated in California, according to USDA.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), working in coordination with California agricultural officials, has declared the red palm weevil eradicated from the Laguna Beach area of Orange County. 

The weevil was first detected by a local arborist in October 2010 in a Canary Island date palm tree in a residential area of Laguna Beach. 

The red palm weevil is considered to be one of the world’s most destructive pests of palms and an infestation typically results in the death of the tree. In an effort to make the local community aware of this invasive species, USDA, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) and the Orange County agricultural commissioner teamed-up with specialists from the University of California, Riverside, and UC Cooperative Extension to work closely with residents, local community officials and arborists.

“This pest is a serious threat to our nursery growers and palm date farmers,” said CDFA Secretary Karen Ross, “It endangers all of the decorative palms that are common in our landscape and part of the classic California image. A special thank you goes out to the local arborist who originally reported this pest. That gave us a valuable head-start.”

According to international standards, a three-year period free from any red palm weevil detections is necessary to declare eradication. This standard was met as the last confirmed detection of RPW occurred on Jan. 18, 2012.

The weevil is native to Southeast Asia and has spread throughout the Persian Gulf. It is found in parts of Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands. Prior to the detection in Orange County, the closest confirmed infestation to the United States was in the Dutch Antilles.

Female red palm weevils bore into a palm tree to form a hole into which they lay eggs. Each female may lay an average of 250 eggs, which take about three days to hatch. Larvae emerge and tunnel toward the interior of the tree, inhibiting the tree’s ability to transport water and nutrients upward to the crown. Early symptoms of weevil infestation are difficult to detect because the entry sites can be covered with offshoots and tree fibers. In heavily infested trees, fallen pupal cases and dead adult weevils may also be found around the base of the tree. 

If residents suspect an infestation, they are encouraged to call the CDFA Pest Hotline at 1-800-491-1899 or contact their local county agricultural commissioner.

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