With the light brown apple moth appearing in nearby counties, Merced County is getting ready for a pest fight.
The moth, which has been found in San Joaquin County and near Sacramento, is an immigrant from Australia that could devastate California's crops.
"It's been found in Manteca and Tracy, it's moving," said David Robinson, agriculture commissioner for Merced County.
The moth was first found in California, in the Bay Area, in 2007, according to Steve Lyle, spokesman for the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
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"We are working with a group of scientists with expertise in this moth," Lyle said. "They have decades of experience and research behind them."
The preferred method of dealing with the moth is to use twist ties with pheromone on the ties which confuses the moth, Robinson said. "There's so much pheromone in the air the male moths can't find the female moths," he explained.
The moth can infest trees such as almond, peach, cottonwood, oak and walnut, and is also attracted to strawberries, berries, corn, tomatoes, beans and various ornamental plants commonly found in urban yards. It's informally called the light brown everything moth, because it will feed on such a wide variety of plants and trees.
Adult moths are light brown, yellowish moths with varying amounts of darker brown. The moths have a wingspan ranging from a half-inch to one inch across, but females can be larger than males.
Lyle said scientists believe the moth can be eradicated in the state. "It's been in New Zealand for about 100 years, and it's also been in Hawaii for a long time, and the moth is well-established in those areas," he said. "We're hoping to stop it before it gets established in the state."
Robinson said Merced County will start putting traps out for the moth in April. Although the moth can devastate crops, the thorniest problem may be the quarantines put on crops from California.
"California ag would take a big hit from quarantines," Robinson said. "If the moth is found in this county, the state would immediately start an eradication effort."
If the moth is found locally, the twist ties would be distributed in both urban and agriculture areas, Robinson said.
"We would put an array of traps out within 10 square miles of where the moth was found," Robinson said. "If it shows up here, it will probably be found in urban settings, on ornamental plants."
When the trapping starts in the county in April, Robinson said specific areas would be targeted.
"This is a serious threat. The state takes this very seriously," Robinson said.
Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or firstname.lastname@example.org.