Teensy tiny brown bugs that measure barely an eighth of an inch have sent agricultural experts into a panic. On Thursday, the San Francisco Department of Public Health sent out a press release to every media outlet in the city warning them about the recent discovery of Asian citrus psyllids, a heavily invasive insect that has the potential to decimate the city’s population of citrus trees.
Traces of the little bug — which carry the dangerous-to-plants bacteria Huanglongbing — were found in the Marina District. This means that if you have a fruit-bearing tree and live in that neighborhood, you should absolutely not distribute your bounty to others. Plant owners are encouraged to inspect their trees for symptoms, and call the California Department of Food and Agriculture Pest Hotline at 1-800-491-1899 or our local San Francisco County Agricultural Commissioner at 415-252-3830.
Marina residents who live within 50 feet of the site where the insect was trapped by officials will be contacted by authorities, and a local community meeting will be held in the near future to address concerns.
In addition, nurseries citywide have also been instructed to inspect and tag all citrus plants for sale with a blue quarantine tree tag, and local farmers market vendors are not permitted to transport in any citrus branches or leaves with their product.
It’s pretty easy to know if you have Asian citrus psyllids; although small they are still visible, and diseased trees will have white waxy substances emitted from the bugs on their leaves. They will also produce bitter, misshapen fruit. Although it’ll look gross, the fruit is still safe to eat; Huanglongbing will not harm humans.
“Even though San Francisco County is not a commercial citrus-producing area, we all play a role in limiting the spread of this insect,” said San Francisco Agricultural Commissioner Cree Morgan. “We plan to work closely with our community and state partners to protect San Francisco’s citrus trees from this invasive pest.”
Asian citrus psyllids are originally from southeast Asia, but have tenaciously spread across the world. The first known sighting of one in the United States was in Florida in 1998.