The imported red fire ant. The fruit fly. The grapevine moth.
Those are the Big Three pests in Merced County. And the county ag commissioner works hard to make sure those pests are either eradicated or kept out of the county completely.
"The major species that we are looking to keep out are the fruit flies," said David Robinson, the commissioner. "The one that is most memorable to people is the Mediterranean fruit fly."
That little fly caused major problems in the state in the 1980s, when an infestation was found in the Bay Area. But there are more types of flies than the Mediterranean. The Mexican fruit fly and the melon fruit fly also constitute threats in California.
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"The Mexican fruit fly is a major problem because it has a wide range of hosts," Robinson said. "It lays its eggs in the fruit and then the worms damage the fruit to the point it's not marketable."
Some of the fruits susceptible to the Mexican fruit fly are peaches, plums, nectarines, grapes, citrus and cherries.
If one of the pests shows up in Merced County, the county is then put into quarantine, Robinson said. "If we have a pest here and want to ship the product to Fresno where they don't have it, we can't ship it," Robinson said. "Unless the farmer fumigates the product."
Fumigation can rid the produce of pests, but can be detrimental to the fruit and expensive for the farmer.
The European grapevine moth is primarily a pest of grapes, and it's making an impact in the county. A vineyard in the Snelling area was found to be infested in May, and because of the find, growers within five miles of the vineyard are under quarantine.
"This pest mostly gets grapes, but it also affects peaches, nectarines and plums," Robinson said. "The growers around the vineyard had to meet quarantine requirements in order to get their fruit out of the county."
The last, but possibly most annoying, pest the county is on the lookout for is the red imported fire ant.
According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the ants can swarm out of their nests and sting a victim repeatedly.
Merced County is not under quarantine for red ants, but individual properties are, Robinson said. The main sites of big colonies of the biting ants are Snelling, the Ballico-Cressey area and Hilmar.
"We believe the ants came in beehives from Southern states," Robinson said. "The good news is we didn't find any ants in any of the hives this year."
The ants not only attack almond orchards by eating the nuts, they also attack people and wildlife.
"If a duck is trying to hatch eggs, the ants will attack the hatchlings. They look for meat sources," Robinson said.
It's difficult to get rid of the red ant population in the county because all of their colonies haven't been found yet.
"Right now we're in the mode of finding them and how they spread," Robinson said.
Not yet a plague, but clearly more than a pain. Pests -- just plain pests.
Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or firstname.lastname@example.org