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Medfly found in Umatilla

A single, female Mediterranean fruit fly caught Monday in the Lake County town of Umatilla sparked a new, intense trapping program in hopes of eradicating the dangerous pest.

The medfly was found in a state trap hanging in a sour orange tree by an abandoned grove, according to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Inspectors with Florida's Division of Plant Industry and with the U.S. Department of Agriculture immediately started intensive medfly trapping. About 1,700 traps were placed in the 81-square-mile area surrounding the Umatilla site.

"This medfly detection demonstrates the effectiveness of our trapping program," Florida Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford said in a statement issued Tuesday in Tallahassee.

"The trap is designed to attract male medflies," Crawford said. "So the fact that we caught a female medfly who had not yet mated suggests that this fly is on her own. But only time and intensive trapping will prove that."

Medflies infest more than 250 varieties of fruit and vegetables, quickly destroying all infested produce. Unchecked, the pest could cause serious damage to Florida's $53-billion agriculture industry, along with backyard gardens and wildlife habitats.

The discovery in Umatilla, a small town just south of the Ocala National Forest, came just two days before state and federal agricultural teams were to start releasing millions of sterile male medflies in the greater Miami area.

The release is a strategy to prevent any females that might still be in the area from mating with fertile medflies.

The Lake County discovery also came 10 days after the Tampa Bay area was declared medfly-free. Crawford's department lifted restrictions in place since last August on the sale and movement of fruit and produce, including backyard citrus.

An adult medfly was found May 28 in Tampa, and state and federal agricultural officials launched an aggressive chemical campaign, spraying the pesticide malathion.

Between May 28 and Aug. 28, officials trapped 749 Medflies in the Tampa Bay area.