Tillandsia stricta, illustration by Margaret Mee, Smithsonian InstitutionSave Florida's Native Bromeliads, Spread of the Mexican Bromeliad Weevil
 
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Above illustration,
"Tillandsia stricta,"
by Margaret Mee,
© Smithsonian Institution,
used with permission.
   

Since its detection in 1989, the Mexican bromeliad weevil has been reported in 18 Florida counties (see Distribution of the Mexican Bromeliad Weevil in Florida for all reported sightings). After its initial establishment in northern Broward and southern Palm Beach Counties (southeast Florida), it was discovered in Lee County (southwest Florida) and several months later in Miami-Dade County. The weevil was probably brought to Lee and Miami-Dade Counties by human transportation of infested plants, which has aided its rapid spread throughout southern Florida. In 1994, Hurricane Andrew devastated the Miami-Dade County site where the weevil had been found 3 years earlier, and it has not been found in Miami-Dade County since then.

 

From the Lee County infestation, the weevil moved up and down the western coast , and from a new infestation in St. Lucie County (also likely aided by human movement of infested plants) it began to move up the eastern coast. Within a few years, it has moved as far north as Brevard County on the eastern coast and Manatee County on the western coast. It also began to move inland, first to Glades County, then south to Hendry County and north to Desoto and Highlands Counties. Most recently it has been reported in Polk and Okeechobee Counties.

 

The Mexican bromeliad weevil has invaded private lands, bromeliad collections, and gardens, including Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota and Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Collier County. It has been destroying bromeliads in the Sebastian, Indian River, Loxahatchee, Caloosahatchee, Peace, Myakka, and Manatee river systems. The weevil is well established in the once-abundant bromeliad populations along the entire 15-mile stretch of the St. Lucie River. Between 1998 and 2000, it killed an estimated 80-90% of Tillandsia fasciculata plants at a site on the river at Port St. Lucie.

 

The weevil has inflicted substantial damage on bromeliad populations in several county parks, especially in Broward and Palm Beach Counties. In late 1990, about 80% of the Tillandsia spp. bromeliads were killed at Hidden Forest (Broward County) within a 6-week period. Within 3 years, the weevil had destroyed all of the Tillandsia flexuosa, Tillandsia paucifolia and Tillandsia utriculata (thousands of individuals) present at Hidden Forest. It has also invaded the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge (Palm Beach County).

 

The weevil has devastated bromeliad populations in the Savannas Preserve State Park (St. Lucie County), and most recently in Myakka River State Park (Sarasota County). It has begun to inflict serious damage at Highlands Hammock State Park (Highlands County), and it has been reported at Koreshan State Historic Site (Lee County) and Lake Kissimmee State Park (Polk County). The greatest tragedy for Florida's State Parks is just beginning, because the weevil was confirmed to be present in the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park in March 2002. The Fakahatchee Strand has the richest epiphytic flora in the state and is home to one bromeliad species found nowhere else in the country and to several other very rare bromeliads. The weevil's appearance in the Fakahatchee Strand also means that it is closer than ever to Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park, also home to several rare bromeliad species. The bromeliads in these large protected lands are safe from the habitat loss that threatens so many animals and plants in south Florida. However, the weevil is not stopped by park boundaries and is fast approaching their isolated habitats.

 

For a chronological listing of weevil sightings, see History of Metamasius callizona in Florida.