60kg of fruit sliced so far in hunt for more flies

By Kristin Edge

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Stuart Hawes is part of the team looking for evidence of the pest. Photo/Michael Cunningham
Stuart Hawes is part of the team looking for evidence of the pest. Photo/Michael Cunningham

Yesterday three "slicers and dicers" were chopping their way through fruit collected from the restricted zones where a single male Queensland fruit fly was found in a garden in the Riverside/Parihaka area, in Whangarei, eight days ago.

The fly was found in the front yard of a home last Tuesday.

It was collected from an insect trap the Ministry of Primary Industries had placed there as part of its national fruit fly surveillance programme. The fruit fly is a major threat to New Zealand's $4 billion horticulture export industry.

Since then a team of about 120 had remained on high alert and were vigilantly checking traps, collecting fruit and examining hundreds of pieces of fruit. So far 60kg of fruit had been sliced and looked at under a microscope.

Head of the mobile laboratory MPI entomologist Alan Flynn said that, as each day passed with no further fruit flies being detected, it increased the probability that there was no fruit fly population in the area.

He said the message for people in the two zones was to leave any fruit that fell from trees on the ground and not to clear them away as MPI staff would be doing the rounds over the weekend collecting the produce.

"People should just let it fall and leave it there. We will evaluate what might be of interest to us," Mr Flynn said.

He said the public had done a fantastic job and were abiding by the regulations in both Zone A and B. People cannot take fresh fruit or vegetables, other than leafy and root varieties, out of the 1.5km circular-controlled area called Zone B.

In the heart of that circle is Zone A - ground zero, where a 200m circle extends from the property where the fruit fly was found.

Working inside the strictly controlled lab at Dyer St, the MPI staff were cutting fruit into pieces no bigger than 5mm wide and under a microscope looking for any evidence of larvae, pupa or other signs of infestation. The fruit they had examined included passionfruit, pears, grapes, plums apples, tomatoes and loads of citrus.

Mr Flynn said insects collected from traps in the affected zones were also being identified. Members of the public had also brought in insects they thought may have been the Queensland fruit fly.

So far the only larvae found came from the Vinegar Fruit Fly - which most people would have seen buzzing around their fruit bowls at home. A bee found in a trap was identified as a native bee.

Mr Flynn said some puriri trees in the affected zones would also be checked as a precaution as there had been no written reports of fruit flies being found in the native trees.

- Northern Advocate

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