A type of invasive whitefly has been detected from Palm Beach Gardens to Boca Raton, and its attacking backward plants, including the beloved hibiscus plant. Known as the Q-biotype whitefly, it feeds on more than nine hundred types of host plants and is considered a major invasive species worldwide.
Six finds in Palm Beach County residential landcapes in late April mark the first time the Q-biotype has been found outside a commercial nursery in the U.S, state and federal scientists said Wednesday.So far it’s been found only in upscale or gated communities in Palm Beach County. Scientists aren’t sure why, although they theorize it may be because the plants there are healthy and well-maintained.
Cindy McKenzie, a research entomologist with the U.S. Horticultural Research Laboratory in Fort Pierce, said, “It has never been found outside of a nursery in the U.S. It was found in three landscapes in Palm Beach Gardens, one residence in Palm Beach island, one in Boynton Beach and one in Boca Raton.”The significant tropical and subtropical pest attacks Florida crops such as tomatoes, squash, beans, watermelons and many other vegetables and ornamentals and is highly resistant to insecticides.
“Unfortunately, we have a developing whitefly issue in Florida,” said Lance Osborne, a faculty member at the UF/IFAS Mid-Florida Research and Education Center, Apopka. “The situation may be improved with diligent attention to identifying and reporting any outbreaks.
“The bottom line is that this poses more of a threat to agriculture than it does to folks in Palm Beach County,” Osborne said. “It won’t get on sweet corn or sugar cane, but it will get on some of the vegetables. It isn’t just limited to hibiscus, but that appears to be the Trojan horse.”
Osborne said officials at Island Environmental, a pest control company headquartered in West Palm Beach, noticed the whiteflies building up in very dense numbers on hibiscus in Palm Beach.
“The infestation was Biblical. When you looked at these leaves, you almost could not see the bottom of the leaf,” Osborne said. “The population went from zero to thousands very quickly.”
Due to confidentiality requirements, Osborne said he could not provide the specific locations or the names of the communities where the whiteflies were found. He has met with the communities’ management companies.
However, Osborne said the Palm Beach find is within a half mile of the Mar-a-Lago Club.
Known scientifically as Bemisisa tabaci, the Q-biotype or Mediterranean whitefly is a light-colored, flying insect slightly less than one millimeter in length.
McKenzie said the Q-biotype whitefly is not related to the ficus whitefly or the Rugose spiraling whitefly, both of which have caused major damage to Florida landscapes in the last few years. The Q-biotype was first found in the U.S. in Arizona in 2004 and has spread to the commercial nursery industry in 26 states.
If you think you have a whitefly infestation, please do not hesitate to contact us!