Got homegrown apples? Here’s why you shouldn’t travel with them

It’s an old problem with a new face.

Apple maggots.

Pierce County and elsewhere in Western Washington is a lost cause when it comes to the critters. They’re here to stay.

But officials hope new quarantine signs will keep them from spreading east.

In June the Washington State Department of Agriculture completed installing new apple maggot quarantine signs across Eastern Washington, in partnership with the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission and the Washington Department of Transportation, according to a press release.

Karla Salp, the public engagement specialist at the WSDA, said Western Washington has had an apple maggot problem since the 1980s.

Salp said eastern Washington is mostly apple maggot free, and that the state wants to keep it that way.

The new signs warn people not to transport raw apples across the state.

“This was about revising some of the signs, checking the placement,” Salp said. “It’s just another reminder that you can’t bring homegrown fruit out of the quarantine to (eastern Washington).”

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Washington State Department of Agriculture Courtesy photo

Apple maggots are essentially fruit flies that look like small house flies with striped wings. Adult female apple maggots lay their eggs under the apple’s skin. In about 3 to 7 days, the eggs hatch and maggots emerge. According to the WSDA website, they are about 1/16 of an inch at birth, but grow to about 1/4 of an inch at maturity.

As the maggot burrows through the apple, it leaves behind a brown trail. Once matured, the maggot exits the apple, drops to the ground and spends winter as pupae in the soil. The following summer, it emerges as an adult to restart the cycle, according to the WSDA.

Salp said apple maggots quickly spread throughout the Interstate 5 corridor in the ‘80s, despite warning signs. She said the main way the pest spreads rapidly is by human transportation.

All of western Washington is in an apple maggot quarantine, and it has been for quite some time. Salp said there’s no way to eradicate the apple maggot, but people shouldn’t worry about store-bought or commercial apples — the problem lies in homegrown ones.

State law says apples need a permit to move from a quarantine area to a pest-free area, as does solid waste, yard debris, organic feedstocks, organic materials and agricultural wastes.

Homeowners with apple trees in their yards are also required to protect against the pests, Salp said.

Salp said people aren’t at risk if they accidentally ingest apple maggot larvae, but should protect their trees anyway. If they aren’t willing to protect their apple trees, she said people should have them removed.

“By keeping trees up that aren’t managed ... you’re helping perpetuate the problem,” Salp said.

Salp said processed apples are OK to transport. That means you can take grandma an apple pie or apple cider, but leave the raw apples at home.