Cucumber beetles, Acalymma vittatum (F.) and Diabrotica undecipunctata howardi (Barber), are specialist herbivores of cucurbits and the vector of Erwinia tracheiphila (E.F. Smith) Holland, the causative agent of wilt disease. Cucumber beetles transmit E. tracheiphila when infected frass falls onto leaf wounds at the site of beetle feeding. We show that E. tracheiphila also can be transmitted via the floral nectaries of Cucurbita pepo ssp. texana L. Andres (Texas gourd). Under field conditions, we found that beetles aggregate in flowers in the late morning, that these beetles chew the anther filaments that cover the nectaries in male flowers thereby exposing the nectary, and that beetle frass accumulates on the nectary. We use real-time polymerase chain reaction to show that most of the flowers produced during the late summer possess beetle frass containing E. tracheiphila. Greenhouse experiments, in which cultures of E. tracheiphila are deposited onto floral nectaries, show that Texas gourds can contract wilt disease through the floral nectaries. Finally, we use green fluorescent protein-transformed E. tracheiphila to document the movement of E. tracheiphila through the nectary into the xylem of the pedicel before the abscission of the flower. Together, these data show that E. tracheiphila can be transmitted through infected frass that falls on or near the floral nectaries. We hypothesize that the concentration of frass from many beetles in the flowers increases both exposure to and the concentration of E. tracheiphila and plays a major role in the dynamics of wilt disease in both wild populations and cultivated squash fields.
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