It's like inevitable doom in a horror flick: coming, slowly, killing everything in its path, and there's nothing anyone can do to stop it.
Or is there?
That's the question facing Miami-Dade County avocado growers and scientists locked in a race against a deadly killer stalking its way from the Carolinas through Georgia and currently found as far south as Central Florida thanks to free rides on firewood transported south. That's right -- the Redbay Abrosia beetle is coming, threatening to destroy the county's $30 million dollar avocado business even as farmers are enjoying prices nearly 50% higher than a few years ago.
Holy guacamole! How would we top our tacos?
With sour cream, naturally, though nothing will be the same if the Redbay Ambrosia isn't stopped. A report over the summer that the beetle had reached Homestead sent farmers scrambling to burn ill-appearing trees and spend hundreds of thousands on pesticides, only to find out the test was a false positive. For now, the trees are safe, though most believe it's only a matter of time.
The beetle, believed to have come from Asia, carries a fungus that kills trees in the laural family, including the avocado. It isn't a pretty process:
Females carry the fungus spores in a special pouch within their mouths. When the insects bore into a healthy tree to check if it would be suitable for nesting, the tree is inoculated with fungi that cause a disease called laurel wilt. As it spreads, the tree's water system is disrupted, causing the leaves to wilt so quickly they don't even fall off.
The larvae and adult females feed off the fungus -- essentially, the beetle carries its farming system with it, said Jonathan Crane, a tropical-fruit plant specialist with the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences in Homestead.
Gross! This thing must be stopped, and not just because the 50 million pounds of avocados grown on 750,000 acres in Dade County are crucial to supplying the rest of the country and a big boon to the local economy -- knowing there's bugs out there enjoying fungal spores like big league chew sure puts a cramp in our outdoorsiness.
Fortunately, scientists with the University of Florida are hustling toward better, quicker tests and possible cures, aided with a $1.2 million USDA grant, and state agriculture authorities have started a campaign to educate the public called Save the Guac.
We second that emotion.