The Q-biotype whitefly, a significant  tropical and subtropical pest, may threaten Florida crops such as tomatoes, squash, beans, watermelons and many other vegetables and ornamentals if immediate measures are not taken to prevent its spread, according to scientists at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).

Scientists statewide, including those with UF/IFAS, are working together to control the whitefly which, for the first time, has been found outside greenhouses and nurseries in Florida. Known scientifically as Bemisia tabaci, the Q-biotype or Mediterranean whitefly is a light-colored, flying insect slightly less than 1 millimeter in length.

Researchers with UF/IFAS are working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to manage the whitefly.

“Unfortunately, we have a developing whitefly issue in Florida,” said Lance Osborne, a faculty member at the UF/IFAS Mid-Florida Research and Education Center in Apopka, Florida. “The situation may be improved with diligent attention to identifying and reporting any outbreaks.”

This marks the first time the Q-biotype of Bemisia tabaci has been found outside a greenhouse or nursery in the United States since it was found on an ornamental plant in a greenhouse in 2004-2005, said Osborne, a UF/IFAS entomology professor.

The following measures are recommended to control the spread of Q-biotype whitefly:

  • Homeowners who suspect they have a whitefly infestation should contact their UF/IFAS Extension county office. Office locations may be found at http://bit.ly/1Q8wguw.
  • For identification purposes, infested leaves and dead insect specimens should be brought to local Extension offices. Wrap in a dry paper towel and place in a seal-able plastic bag and then in an envelope. Freezing the specimen overnight before transport is highly recommended. Live insects should not be transported.  
  • Because new populations have built up resistance to chemicals, it is recommended that suspected whitefly infestations be confirmed before chemically treating the insects, as it may be needless to spray pesticides.
  • Landscapers and pest control operators should inspect for signs of whitefly pests, communicate with neighboring properties and homeowners associations, employ good management and growing practices, and implement whitefly management guidelines available at http://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/lso/bemisia/bemisia.htm.
  • Nurseries that suspect whitefly infestations should contact the FDACS Division of Plant Industry at 1-888-397-1517.