New Weapon Deployed in Battle to Stop Key Deer Screwworm Outbreak
November 18, 2016

Wildlife officials racing to protect endangered Key deer from an outbreak of screwworm flies have added a new weapon to their arsenal: a medication pit stop.

The stations have been deployed in the National Key Deer Refuge's backcountry to treat more reclusive deer and are a miniature version of a method used to successfully treat domestic livestock. The stations - feeding troughs baited with sweet corn, oats and other grains and rimmed with rollers coated with an anti-parasitic - should add another layer of protection to the endangered herd, which now numbers about a thousand.

Since August, 130 deer have died after being infected with the screwworm larva, which burrow into wounds to feed on flesh.

"What we expect epidemiologically is to have a curve that almost looks like a bell curve," said Joanna Davis, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "So it's kind of following the path that's expected."

The USDA in mid-October also began releasing sterile male screwworms - about 6 million larvae weekly - to wipe out the wild flies. Female screwworm flies only mate once, so entomologists predict populations should begin to drop nine to 12 weeks after releases, Davis said.

The New World screwworm has not been seen in the U.S. since the 1960s. U.S. Fish & Wildlife, in partnership with the Florida and U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, are working to eradicate the screwworm and keep it contained to the lower Keys.

Reprinted in part from Miami Herald