Deadly screwworm claims 10 percent of already endangered key deer

BIG PINE KEY, Fla. (WSVN) — The already endangered Key deer in South Florida is facing a new threat that has already cost over 100 to die in the past month alone. But now, officials are ready to take action to save South Florida’s beloved deer.

Since the discovery of the fatal screwworm in September, there has been a nonstop effort to eradicate the insect and save the Key deer.

Screwworm flies lay eggs in the wounds of warm blooded animals, such as Key deer, and because these deer are wild, by the time the infestation of its larvae is discovered in their wounds, it is too late.

“The population before the infestation was probably right at 1,000,” said Dan Clark of the National Key Deer Refuge. “It’s a federally endangered species, so of course we are concerned with regard to the existence of that species in the future.”

So far, the screwworm has claimed about 10 percent of the key deer population. One hundred seventeen deer have either been found dead or have had to be euthanized.

Therefore, officials plan to release millions of sterile flies, which will end the life cycle the screwworm fly and eliminate from the area altogether.

“This is an important part of our screwworm eradication effort,” said Florida Department of Agriculture Commissioner Adam H. Putnam. “We’ve released over 10 million sterile flies. By tomorrow, that number will be closer to 13 million.”

The first release was in October, and officials reassured the public they will continue their eradication efforts until the job is done.

“We do this rain or shine and for as long as it takes to eradicate this,” said John Welch of the USDA.

There will be sterile fly releases at 25 locations, Friday, starting before sunrise.

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