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The perfect lemon is thanks to... a bug?

The Foothill Agricultural Research & Entomology Lab – a Private Research Group has been harvesting bugs -- no, really, they harvest the aphytis melinus which consumes citrus scale -- at the Park for over 25 Years!

[NOTE: This is an article from the archive; dates and details require review and updates – enjoy the original publication below.]

“You do what?!”

“We grow bugs,” Sharon Lasley answers nonchalantly.

Sharon has been the general manager of the largest producer in the world of a microscopic biological control called an Aphytis. Foothill Agricultural Research, Inc., or F.A.R., was established at the Foothill Ranch over 26 years ago and they rear over one billion of these bugs each year. The insectory is now an integral, and intriguing part of Corona Heritage Park.

Common to citrus crops is a bad bug called California Red Scale. It grows on the skin of the fruit and doesn’t affect the taste, but it sure makes them unappetizing to look at, and very hard to sell. Unchecked, this scale will spread to the leaves and branches killing the whole tree. Until the production of a beneficial bug was developed, the only way this scale could be cleaned from the fruit and the trees was chemically.

Sharon points out that people always want quick answers to pest problems in agriculture, and pesticides kill off all of nature’s natural defenses. The parasitoid they grow and sell to the farmers never develop a resistance and relentlessly destroy the red scale.

Unsuspecting park visitors are confounded at the sheds filled floor to ceiling with banana squash neatly arranged on wooden racks.

“That’s where we grow them,” explains Efrain Guzman, F.A.R.’s production manager. “First we artificially infest the squash with the scale. Then the squash are sprinkled with the Aphytis which lays its eggs in the scale. The larva emerge and eat the scale. The squash are sprayed with carbon dioxide which makes the new population of bugs go to sleep. They fall off and are collected underneath for packaging and shipment.”

Aphytis melinus are actually a wasp, but they don’t bite, they can’t sting, and are completely incapable of carrying disease. You couldn’t ask for a nicer bug as a neighbor. And they’re so conveniently compact; a paper cup holds 50,000 of them.

“People say they look like gold dust,” quips Sharon. And indeed, that’s their value to farmers from the central valleys of California to the hillsides of Italy. As easy as it all sounds, F.A.R.’s entomologists are some of the very few successful producers of Aphytis in the world and they play an important part in other areas of biological control.

Perhaps F.A.R.’s most crucial effort may be in helping to find a biological control for a deadly new pest believed to be imported from Australia during the last decade. A leafhopper called the Glassy-Wing Sharpshooter.

In only the last five years, the Sharpshooter has destroyed hundreds of millions of dollars worth of wine grapes throughout the Temecula Valley. But they don’t just destroy the grapes, they disease and kill the entire vine.

Ever stand under a tree in Corona and feel a tiny rain shower? Those refreshing dew drops are actually Sharpshooter excrement! They feed on practically any type of plant material, which is why just spraying crops will never stop them. They’re already in your lawns and shrubs. Even if you could spray everything, pesticides are only effective in killing the full grown pests. That’s where the good bugs excel. They thrive eating the eggs and all, in the field, in your garden, and you’ll never even know they’re there.

The mighty aphytis has already migrated to California’s central valleys and it’s only a matter of time before they reach Napa and Sonoma.

It’s exciting to consider that California’s entire wine industry may someday be helped by a tiny parasitic bug grown in the F.A.R. insectaries right here at Corona Heritage Park.


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