UF/IFAS Bug Week focuses on “Big Money Bugs” that generate economic damages, benefits

The invasive Asian citrus psyllid.

The invasive Asian citrus psyllid. UF/IFAS photo by Michael Rogers. Click for high-red image.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Call them Florida’s “Big Money Bugs” – the insects responsible for the greatest economic damages, costs and benefits that arthropods generate in the Sunshine State.

This year, the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) focuses on Big Money Bugs for its annual Bug Week, May 21 to 27. The event offers educational outreach for the public while showcasing UF/IFAS’ entomology and nematology program, one of the nation’s largest and most comprehensive.

Visit the Bug Week website at http://bugs.ufl.edu for more information, including profiles on six of the state’s most economically significant arthropods. Among these species are the destructive Asian citrus psyllid and Formosan subterranean termite, topics of great concern, said Jack Payne, UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources.

“In recent years, pest insects have had enormous negative impacts on our state,” Payne said. “Bug Week is the perfect opportunity for UF/IFAS to raise awareness about the challenges these pests bring about, in terms of lost agricultural and natural resources production, management costs, and even human and veterinary healthcare issues, in some instances.”

Species profiled on the Bug Week website include:

*The Asian citrus psyllid, which cost the state’s citrus industry $7.8 billion in total economic contributions from crop losses during the 2006-07 through 2012-13 growing seasons;

*The Formosan subterranean termite, the most destructive widespread termite species in Florida;

*Invasive yellow fever and Asian tiger mosquitoes, which are known to transmit viral diseases in Florida and believed to transmit Zika virus in other countries;

*Beneficial honeybees, which help make Florida the nation’s third-largest honey producer as well as a top source of rental honey bee colonies used to pollinate crops.

The Big Money Bugs profiles include basic information on featured species, their behavior, their economic impacts, and how UF/IFAS is addressing those impacts, Payne said.

Other economically significant insects will appear in the Bug of the Day feature, and concepts related to the economic side of entomology will be the focus of this year’s Bug Word of the Day selections. These items will appear May 23 to 27 on the Bug Week website.

Additional Bug Week website items that tie in to the Big Money Bugs theme include video stories on harmful or beneficial insects, plus how-to articles on choosing a termite protection plan and eliminating mosquito breeding habitat around homes.

Bug Week is presented by the UF/IFAS Communication Services office, in cooperation with the UF/IFAS Entomology and Nematology Department. The event was created partly because Florida has such a wide variety of bugs, and many residents are not fully aware of distinctions between harmful, helpful and harmless species, said Ruth Borger, UF/IFAS assistant vice president for communications.

“Life in Florida is more pleasant when you understand that not every bug around your home is cause for alarm,” Borger said. “We hope to help residents gain some peace of mind, and narrow their concerns down to the few bugs that really deserve attention from residents.”

Since the pioneering days of Florida agriculture more than a century ago, insects and other arthropods have destroyed crops and thwarted initial management efforts, Payne noted, but history shows over and over how scientific solutions can be developed, with ingenuity and determination.

“For every economically significant insect pest in Florida, UF/IFAS has world-class experts conducting research and Extension programs to assist producers, help the public and advance the science concerning these organisms,” he said. “We also have projects aimed at maximizing the benefits that Florida obtains from native pollinators, natural predators and arthropods that can be employed in biological control programs.

“When it comes to bugs, we fight the good fight every day at UF/IFAS, right alongside producers, industry personnel and residents,” Payne said. “We hope that our Big Money Bugs event will help all Floridians appreciate what’s at stake, and how much progress is being made.”

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Writer: Tom Nordlie, 352-273-3567, tnordlie@ufl.edu

Sources: Jack Payne, 352-392-1971, jackpayne@ufl.edu

Ruth Borger, 352-294-3329, rborger@ufl.edu