State and federal officials are preparing to put the kibosh on New World screwworm eradication efforts in South Florida next week.
Following a meeting with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam told the Keynoter Thursday that scientists are pleased with the drastic decline in the numbers of wild screwworm flies in the Keys and Homestead.
Screwworm larvae feed on open wounds and can eat any warm-blooded animal alive. To stop the life cycle, more than 140 million sterile screwworm flies have been released in the Lower Keys, Marathon and Homestead since October to mate with wild flies to produce eggs that never hatch.
“We’ll be making our final release in Homestead Tuesday and our final sterile fly release in the Keys on April 25,” Putnam said.
An inspection station at mile marker 106 in Key Largo staffed around the clock with state Department of Agriculture officers checking pets for screwworm will close next week, too, Putnam said.
More than 16,000 animals ranging from cats and dogs to camels and parrots have been given a once-over, all receiving a clean bill of health.
In the past five months, screwworms caused the deaths of 135 endangered Key deer, which stand around 3 feet high and are found only in the Keys. There have not been any screwworm-related deer deaths or reports of screwworm in the Keys since Jan. 7. A stray dog found in Homestead with an infestation sparked heavy concern in early January about screwworms spreading to the mainland, which could threaten Florida’s livestock industry and other endangered species. There have been no reports since.
An incident command post in a former passenger departure area at Florida Keys Marathon International Airport where officers have been rotating in and out will close, too, Putnam said.
Still, surveillance for screwworm flies will continue for some period of time, he added.
“We continue to ask the public to report any unusual behavior on the part of Key deer pets or wildlife that may give us an indication there’s still an issue,” Putnam said, adding should any screwworm infestations reappear, sterile fly releases will begin again immediately. “We’re going above and beyond to avoid that happening.”
The Keys and Homestead could be declared screwworm-fly-free in April, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture liaison Rick Riesland. For that to happen, there needs to be a 90-day stretch of no reported screwworm infestations.
Katie Atkins: 305-440-3219