Giant and Woolly Whiteflies Invade Urban Bakersfield
Both whitefly cases are textbook examples of what happens when exotic insect pests arrive at a new location in the absence of their natural enemies. In Mexico, the native homeland of giant whitefly, tiny parasitic wasps kill immature stages of this pest to the extent that adults are difficult to find. The same is true for woolly whitefly which is controlled in Europe, Florida, and southern California by related parasites. In the San Joaquin Valley, though, parasitic wasps for either species have not been found, and whitefly populations are skyrocketing.
It is uncertain what impact giant and woolly whiteflies will have in Kern County. Giant whitefly originally entered California in San Diego where it became a serious pest of hibiscus used as a food for animals at the San Diego Zoo. Since that time, this pest has spread up the coast towards Santa Barbara County. Efforts by the California Department of Food and Agriculture to introduce parasites in coastal parts of the state have been successful, and have significantly reduced numbers of this pest in those regions. The success of such a program in Kern County is uncertain, since tiny parasitic wasps that flourish on the coast often cannot survive the hot, dry climate of the San Joaquin Valley.