County agricultural officials Thursday released 8 million sterile Mediterranean fruit flies over a 53-square-mile area of West Los Angeles in their latest assault on the crop-destroying pest.
“We may end up releasing 700 million flies before we’re through,” said William Edwards of the Los Angeles County agricultural commissioner’s office.
Ground crews in four trucks roved a 19-square-mile area, releasing 3 million flies. Another 5 million sterile Medflies were released from an airplane over the entire 53-square-mile area.
Agricultural officials hope the sterile flies, speckled with pink dye and imported from Hawaii, will mate with the potent Medflies in the area and breed them out of existence. Forty-eight Medflies have been found in traps on the Westside since Sept. 26.
Last week, agricultural officials used three helicopters to spray a bait treated with the chemical pesticide malathion over a 35-square-mile area containing 160,000 residents after a ground-spraying effort.
At stake, they said, is the $15.5-billion California agricultural industry. While the present Medfly manifestation has not resulted in a single report of destroyed produce, officials fear that the infected area would quickly expand if efforts were not made to wipe out the insect.