Blueberry crops ‘melting away’ from fly infestation

DEBERT, N.S. – Researchers in Nova Scotia are trying to stay one step ahead of an oncoming wave of destructive fruit flies.

The population of spotted wing drosophila is spreading across North America after hitting western Canada and much of the United States.

Last week, David Percival spotted one of Colchester County’s first of the season.

He says the fly can quickly devastate entire fields.

“Within a matter of a week to two weeks,” he said, “it can go from a situation of thinking ‘OK, the berries are doing fantastic. They look fine.’ to quite wizzled up, really melting away.”

The insects look identical to fruit flies you’d see buzzing around your kitchen, and are harmless to humans.

But the female spotted wing drosophila’s ovipositor – the egg-laying organ – is serrated like a knife. She can cut into fruit and deposit her eggs.

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Most fruit flies must wait until fruit are soft and overripe to lay their eggs.

The flies grow from eggs to adults in about 10-15 days, meaning they can spread through a fruit field very quickly.

“The larvae really break down the berry in a short period of time,” said Percival.

Scientists are working to learn everything they can about the insect, including how to stop it.

Peter Burgess, a horticulturist at Perennia, says farmers need to closely monitor their fields.

If farmers spot the insect, they can either quickly harvest their crop early or resort to pesticide use. If left untreated, the drosophila can easily wipe out entire fields.

“We’re exporting to more than 27 countries,” Percival said. “So from an economic impact perspective, it has potential to be quite significant.”

Approximately half the province’s wild blueberries have yet to be harvested. They could be at risk if the fly’s population grows substantially.

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