Small bugs kill hundreds of palm trees in Lakeland

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When tourists think of Florida, palm trees often come to mind. But the iconic trees are now under attack by a tiny bug called a plant hopper, which spreads disease and kills them.

The bugs are giving Lakeland an especially bad time.

“This plant hopper is a nasty little fellow,” said Kevin Cook, spokesman for the City of Lakeland.

The plant hopper eats palm fronds, then vomits. The regurgitated material breaks down the cells of the frond which make it vunerable to a disease called Texas Phoenix Palm Decline. Antibiotics can slow down the disease, but there is no prevention or cure.

Eventually, the tree dies.

Over the last four years, Lakeland has removed 700 diseased trees and replaced them with new ones. Every palm that gets pulled out, the city replants a species of palm from Australia that doesn’t appear to be affected by the disease.

Experts say plant hoppers carrying Texas Phoenix Palm Decline could show up in your yard. They say signs of trouble include the the fronds of your palm suddenly turning brown and its berries falling off.