MARCH 17 2012 01:25h

Asian fly threatens European fruit crops

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BARCELONA, Spain, March 16 (UPI) -- Spanish scientists say an invasive Asian fly with a taste for fruit has crossed the Alps into Europe and presents a threat to crops in many European countries.

Coming from the Asian continent, Drosophila suzukii prefers cherries and red fruits but any type of fruit is suitable for it to lay its eggs, the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology reported Friday.

"Out of the 3,000 known species of Drosophilae, commonly named the vinegar fly, only two are potentially dangerous to fruit crops. One of them is Drosophila suzukii," Gemma Calabria, researcher at the Department of Genetics of the University of Barcelona, said.

Calabria and her team said the fly was accidentally discovered in the autumn of 2008 in Spain and has spread at a rate of more than 800 miles per year in affected fruit transported by humans.

The fly is heading north, researchers said, and various regions of France and Italy have come under attack since 2009.

Drosophila suzukii has caused significant damages to cherry and strawberry crops in the United States but went unnoticed in Spain for the first few years, they said.

The movement to the north in both Europe and in North America suggests the species does not "especially" require a dry Mediterranean climate.

"If if it spreads to more humid regions, it could cause a major agricultural epidemic," the Spanish researchers say.