Asian Citrus Psyllid Insect Carries Tree-Killing Disease, Prompts California Quarantine

By Josh Lieberman on October 2, 2013 6:19 PM EDT

asian citrus psyllid
The Asian citrus psyllid has been detected in two counties in California, promting a quarantine. The insect can carry huanglongbing disease, which kills citrus trees. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Several counties in California have been placed under quarantine after the tree-killing insect Asian citrus psyllid was detected. Two counties have now been infested with Asian citrus psyllid,  which has the potential to carry the bacterial disease huanglongbing, or HLB.

The Asian citrus psyllid is a a four-millimeter-long brown insect that feeds on the stems and leaves of citrus trees. The insect acquires HLB by feeding on trees that have the disease; an infected Asian citrus psyllid can then spread HLB to other trees. The insect carries HLB for life, and is considered to be one of the worst citrus parasites.  

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"The [Asian citrus psyllid] is of grave concern because it can carry the disease huanglongbing (HLB), also known as citrus greening," the California Department of Food and Agriculture, or CDFA, said in a press release. "All citrus and closely related species are susceptible hosts for both the insect and the disease. There is no cure once a tree becomes infected."

The bacterial disease is harmless to humans and animals, but in citrus trees it is absolutely deadly. HLB causes the fruit of infected trees to become bitter, hard and misshapen, and the disease eventually kills the tree. Detection of HLB in citrus trees can be difficult, as it can take a year for symptoms to show, and even then, symptoms like not-too-uncommon yellowing leaves may not be recognized as HLB indicators.  

HLB has been detected in California once before, according to the CDFA, at one house in Hacienda Heights in 2012. HLB is present in Mexico and Texas, Louisiana, Georgia and South Carolina. In Florida, where HLB is not currently present, the citrus industry and economy has been hit hard by the bacterial disease: the University of Florida estimated [PDF] that between 2007 and 2012, the state lost 6,600 jobs, direct revenue of $1.3 billion and indirect revenue of $3.6 billion due to HLB. 

Hawaii, Arizona, Mississippi and Alabama all have detected the Asian citrus psyllid, but have not been infected with HLB.

The California quarantine mandates that commercial citrus fruit have its leaves and stems removed before leaving the quarantine area. The quarantine covers portions of Tulare County and Kern County. 

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