FORT COLLINS, Colo. — I wrote a previous post about our U.S. Customs and Border Patrol dogs, who are stationed at airports to sniff out contraband that enters from other countries. They are amazing and impressive…and of course, mostly beagles. Yay beagles!
A Master Gardener recently sent me an article about dogs that are employed to sniff out a devastating citrus disease that is threatening Florida’s industry. The disease, Huanglongbing, abbreviated to HLB (thank goodness!) is a bacterium that prevents citrus fruit from ripening. It’s also known as citrus greening. The bacteria is vectored by a psyllid, a very small insect related to aphids and mealy bugs.
HLB has been confirmed in the United States in Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina, Georgia; and in Cuba, Belize, and the Eastern Yucatan of Mexico. Since its confirmation in 2005, agriculture authorities estimate that it’s caused a 75% decline in Florida’s $9 billion industry. Sadly, over 5,000 fruit growers have lost their businesses.
The leaves of HLB-infected trees are blotchy, and the fruit is smaller in size, lopsided, poorly colored, and worst of all…very bitter. In short, the citrus fruit is of poor quality and no value. The worst part is there’s no cure for the disease and it can move rapidly throughout orchards, since psyllids are mobile.
Back to the dogs! You’ve likely read that dogs have been used for sniffing out cancer, bed bugs, and even emerald ash borer (!!!!!!). In the case of sniffing out threats to our agriculture industry, the USDA has looked at using dogs to detect HLB for over 15 years. They’ve found our canine companions have a 99% accuracy in identifying the disease. Ninety-nine percent! And the dogs are super fast at their job. They can quickly detect HLB in just a couple seconds, quickly sniffing each tree within the row. The reward for a find? A favorite chew toy.
As soon as the dog detects an infested tree (they sit by the culprit), the tree is marked and slated for removal. Dogs are much more accurate and quicker than visual inspections and lab analyses. Compared to dogs, the lab tests, using PCR, only had a 25% accuracy rate. Dogs rule.
— Alison O’Connor, Larimer County Extension
For more news from Colorado, click here.