Invasive pest targeting Okanagan fruit

KELOWNA – The spotted wing drosophila, an invasive pest that targets cherries and other fruit, is showing up in higher numbers this year in the Okanagan. Homeowners growing backyard fruit are being encouraged to take action to prevent infestations from spreading to local orchards.

“Spotted wing drosophila is a fruit fly. It looks like the regular ones you find around rotten bananas, but this one has developed in such a way that the female has an egg laying device that looks like a saw so it can go after ripening fruit. It can lay its eggs in the ripening fruit and that is why it is such a big problem,” says Ministry of Agriculture entomologist, Susanna Acheampong.

The insects target cherries and other fruit like nectarines, strawberries and blackberries.

“I think everybody is seeing a bit of damage from the spotted wing drosophila,” says the president of the B.C. Cherry Association, Sukpaul Bal.

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The invasive insect has been in the Okanagan for less than a decade. Spotted wing drosophila are a seasonal problem but their numbers tend to fluctuate.

“Because we had more of a mild winter and then we had these good temperatures this year, we are seeing a lot of them,” explains Acheampong.

Read More: “Worst year on record” for spotted wing drosophila

Orchardists are taking steps to control the pest.

“Commercial growers are doing their best,” says Bal. “The downside is the chemicals to treat that are very limited and they can do quite a bit of damage by putting puncture holes into the cherries.”

Meanwhile, B.C. Tree Fruits says they are not seeing a significant impact.

“It is something that our growers have under control on the orchards. It is just something that we are just kind of used to dealing with on a yearly basis,” says B.C. Tree Fruits spokesperson Chris Pollock.

Homeowners growing fruit are being urged to help out by taking action in their own backyards to control infestations that can spread to commercial operations.

“If you are not doing anything to control this pest, it is a concern because it serves as a source of infestation for our commercial growers,” says Acheampong.

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More information, from the Ministry of Agriculture, on the spotted wing drosophila and how to control the pest is available here.

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