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Invasive Whitefly Species Spreading Through Florida, Could Threaten Crops

In April, the whitefly was found for the first time outside greenhouses and nurseries in Florida.
In April, the whitefly was found for the first time outside greenhouses and nurseries in Florida.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A species of whitefly new to Florida poses a potential threat to plants in seven counties after spreading from Palm Beach, according to a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researcher.

The Q-biotype whitefly can affect tomatoes, squash, beans, watermelons and other vegetables and ornamentals, said Lance Osborne, an entomology professor at UF/IFAS.

The species has been reported in yards and on plants in retail nurseries that will be sent as far north as Duval County as well as Broward, Highlands, Hillsborough, Martin, Pinellas and Seminole counties, Osborne said.

The whitefly was found for the first time outside Florida greenhouses and nurseries in April. Known scientifically as Bemisia tabaci, the Q-biotype or Mediterranean whitefly is a light-colored, tiny flying insect. This marks the first time the Q-biotype of Bemisia tabaci has been found outside a greenhouse or nursery in the United States since 2004-2005, Osborne said .

Inspectors from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services are tracing the flies back to the wholesale nurseries that shipped the plants to the retail stores. From there, nurseries can work with UF/IFAS on appropriate management practices.

Researchers with UF/IFAS are also working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Agricultural Research Service to manage the whitefly. 

Homeowners who suspect they have a whitefly infestation should contact their UF/IFAS Extension Office. For identification purposes, infested leaves and dead insect specimens should be brought to local extension offices. Specimens should be wrapped in a dry paper towel and placed in a sealable plastic bag and then in an envelope.

Freezing the specimen overnight before transport is highly recommended and living insects should not be transported. Information such as the date, location, what type of vegetation is affected, number of suspected whiteflies, and whether a pesticide has been used on the plant, is helpful information to managing the pest.

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.

If homeowners suspect they have a Q-biotype whitefly in their yard, they should use soap and oils that are sold as insecticides or call a professional exterminator.

Contact WUFT News by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news