The three dead insects that have sent Florida into a Medfly panic were flown to California Wednesday for a fertility test. But by the time they reached the lab, the flies were so shriveled and dried out it was impossible for scientists to reach a verdict.
"They were just too far gone," said one California agriculture official. "Whoever shipped them to us, put them in alcohol and dried them out. They were almost rotten by the time they got here. We'll never know if they were fertile or sterile."
But Floridia isn't taking any chances with its $4 billion fruit crop. Come Friday, an assault team of state agriculture workers, armed with the pesticide malathion, heads into the surburbs of East Tampa to soak the ground near Katie Brocado's back yard, where the discovery of three Mediterranean fruit flies has triggered Medfly mania.
Come Monday, a crop duster will swoop down and douse the neighborhood with malathion, just in case the three dead medflies, two males and a female, were more menace than manage. "We consider this a preventive measure," said Hal Denmark, a state entomologist. "We have to assume three flies represent an infestation."
Officials Wednesday dispatched workers to set thousands of sex-biated fly traps up to five miles from the Brocados' Kumquat tree trap. Others stalked a nearby Tampa warehouse full of fruit and checked out fruit-laden freighters in Tampa bay.