Florida First Detectors help ID invasive plant pests before they spread

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida has the most invasive species of any state in the country, and half of the insects, reptiles, arachnids and crustaceans imported into the United States come through Florida ports, University of Florida experts say.

So, UF/IFAS has teamed up with government agencies to create the Florida First Detectors program, which teaches the public how to identify these insects before they become prolific.

UF/IFAS works with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to coordinate the Florida First Detectors program.

Florida First Detectors trains stakeholders such as Florida Master Gardeners, nursery managers, farmers or their crop consultants to identify pests, said Amanda Hodges, a UF/IFAS Extension scientist and co-author of a new invasive insects identification guide.

Now First Detectors can use Hodges’ new Identification Guide to Florida’s Invasive Plant Pests, which consists of plastic-covered cards in a three-ring binder. The deck comes chock full of information and photographs of invasive plants, and it’s available for $12 at the UF/IFAS Extension Bookstore.

You can carry the guide with you anywhere to help you properly identify pests.

“It’s really important for Extension and others who are involved in plant protection to be aware of some of the invasive pests that we don’t want to establish in Florida,” Hodges said.

Hodges pointed out a handful of the most troublesome invasive plant pests that concern growers and other UF/IFAS stakeholders: Asian citrus psyllid, which can transmit citrus greening and kill citrus trees; Asian longhorned beetle, which eats hardwood trees such as maple; giant African land snails, which kill many plants; as well as psyllids that can kill tomatoes and potatoes.

So, it’s critical to teach the public to report the location of pests or pest sightings to the proper officials so they can follow up. Those authorities would include faculty at their UF/IFAS Extension county office. You can also send them to the UF/IFAS entomology insect identification lab, Hodges said.

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By: Brad Buck, 352-294-3303, bradbuck@ufl.edu

The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.

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