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Invasive Insect Which Destroys Figs Discovered On Central, South Coasts

Chris Sayer
Petty Farms
A black fig fly at a Ventura County farm.

The discovery of the insect on a Ventura County farm was the first in the state of California.

A destructive insect pest normally found halfway around the world has shown up in California, threatening one of its crops. It’s an insect which literally turns the inside of figs into a nest for its young.

The very first find of the black fig fly on a farm in the state was in Ventura County.

Chris Sayer, with Petty Farms says the fly turned up at their operation in Saticoy this summer, right at harvest time. Sayer says figs are one of the farm’s newer, and smaller crops. But, he says this year’s expected harvest from the acre of trees was devastated.

The flies were first found in the state this summer, and have now been identified in seven counties, including Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. To a casual observer, they might look like a common fly.

Researchers say because black fig flies aren’t native to the United States, there’s a lot we don’t know about them. They are common in places like Greece, and more recently Mexico. It's believed that some of them may have hitchhiked to California with contaminated fruit.

Dr. Houston Wilson is an entomologist at U.C. Riverside, with the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center. His team is helping to lead the way in black fig fly research.

Wilson says the flies only attack figs. They prefer fruit which hasn't ripened yet. The adult female deposits her eggs inside of the fruit. The larvae then eat the fruit, which drops to the ground because of the damaged caused. The pupae then drop to the soil, where they remain through the winter in the soil. They emerge in the spring as flies, mate, and repeat the cycle.

Figs aren’t a big crop in California, but are an important one. The state is literally America’s home-grown fig basket. 100% of the nation’s dried figs, and 98% of the fresh figs are grown in the state.

Wilson says at this point, federal agricultural officials don’t have a containment or control plan for the flies. Pesticides have been shown to work in other countries, but the goal here is to come up with something more environmentally friendly. Wilson says first up though is to establish the extent of the state’s infestation, to see if it extends past the seven Southern California counties where it has been positively identified.

Ventura County farmer Chris Sayer is hopeful we’ll find some answers to the invasive flies. Sayer says while this year’s fig season is shot, they’ll try again next year.

Pest alert on Black Fig Flies

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.