George Compere
George Compere
George Compere, 1888
Photo Courtesy of Ann Gaul
George Compere
Photo Courtesy of Ann Gaul

Compere in Australia
George Compere in Australia
Photo Courtesy of Ann Gaul

"In 1901, Canadian George Compere was appointed by the Western Australian Government to collect parasites and investigate the potential for biological control of many insects, including Medfly. By 1904, Compere was working for both the Californian and the Western Australian governments, collecting parasites and predators from all over the world, against a variety of pests that had established themselves in both countries."
Quotation excerpted from the website of
the Department of Agriculture - Western Australia
To read the whole story, click on:
The Fight Against Fruit Flies in Western Australia

Sunday Examiner Magazine
San Francisco Examiner, Sunday, February 8, 1903
Why George Compere Has Started Around the World With a Magnifying Glass to Find a Bug and Why It Is Vitally Important to the Fruit Industry That His Search Be Successful

BECAUSE a Fly, in advance of as terribly devastating an army of insects as ever set its plague hold upon a fertile land, came in an evil hour to Australia, George Compere of California has started around the world to find the insect that preys upon the destroyer.
     Every insect has its own particular enemy. Mr. Compere will continue to search until he finds the specimen for which he is sent. His success affords the only hope of salvation for Australia's fruit growers. He will carry the search, if necessary, into every portion of the globe where an insect can thrive. He has been employed by the Australian Government to perform this singular errand.
     En route, Mr. Compere stopped long enough in San Francisco to thoroughly acquaint the Board of Horticulture with the new danger which deserves their attention.
     "If one of these flies should come to California," said Mr. Compere with simple earnestness--the simplicity of an expert knowing whereof he speaks and the earnestness of a man who has the interests of his home State lying near his heart--"If one of these flies were to come to California the consequences might be fatal to the fruit industry here for all time to come."
     These words were not idly spoken, for Mr. Compere is a carefull, conservative man, who, realizing the power of the pest whose annihilation depends upon his endeavors, is gravely apprehensive for the safety of the State. With far-seeing eyes he beholds the picture of desolation that our fair land would present were the dreaded Fly to reach here before he finds its antagonist.
     The warning has been heeded. Sentinels at the orchard outposts of California are watching with the utmost vigilance every sort of craft that sails from the antipodes through the Golden Gate. These sentinels are the members of the board, and down at the docks they guard the State's splendid orchards from chance invasion by the worst enemy that could enter their domain. This enemy is the Queensland Fly.
     For many miles around Queensland the farmers have been burning their beautiful trees and sadly setting themselves to the only task they may now venture upon without ruin to themselves. They are either converting their acres to pasture land, or plowing and planting to reap such proeucts as wheat and barley in place of the fruits that were their pride and their means of maintenance until a Fly came to Queensland on a vessel from the Mediterranean.
     The glory of California lies in the vast yield of fruit which is sent to the ends of the earth, and in return comes golden tribute from almost every civilized country. The greater part of the valuation of real estate in Califronia arises from the fact that fruit either is growing or can be grown upon its acres.
     Misfortune unspeakable would come upon us if, as in Queensland, the orchardists, weary and defeated in a fight against a creeping army of fruit destroyers, should give up in despair, make fuel of the trees and convert to wheat and cattle raising the orchards that have supported the great canneries, dryers and fruit shippers. Hence we shall follow the quest of George Compere with more interest than all the stories of battles between the nations. for somewhere under the sun is the parasite of the Queensland Fly, and in a glass case no bigger than is necessary to inclose one orange or peach tree can be bred enough of the soldiers of that tribe to defend all the orchards of California.
     There are those who will doubt that a few flies could ever increase to such appalling numbers as to make the great State of California fruitless, yet one gypsy moth escaping from a box in an Eastern State is now costing the local government there $100,000 a year to hold it in check. It eats, when in the caterpillar form, every green thing which is in its way. And hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of apples are destroyed in California by the codlin moth yearly because a farmer sent East to his old home for a barrel of apples to exhibit at the State Fair. That was before there was any Board of Horticulture, and the judges, finding the apples wormy, were at a loss what to do with them Not assuming the authority to destroy them and not realizing their blunder, they allowed the farmer to take them back to the farm on his promise not to let the worms get away. But they did get away and now the codlin moth eats half the apple crop of California.
     To search for the codlin moth's enemy and for that of the threatening fruit fly should be part of the duty of the board, but the appropriation of money is too limited. Five thousand dollars is the total amount allowed to carry on the board's work.
     The Queensland fruit fly cannot be fought by the ordinary methods of spraying, as it does not itself eat the fruit, but pierces through the skin and deposits eggs that, developing into larvae, eat their way throughout the solid flesh of the fruit, secure from all sprays, washes and fumigations except such as would destroy the crop entirely.
     So rapidly do the flies multiply that the increase of a single fertile female could spend so quickly as to destroy the Califronia fruit industry in a few years. No means of checking the fly has evere been known, and that is why George Compere is going around the world in such a hurry.
Mr. Compere makes the interesting statement that nothing is a pest in its own native country, because there will be found in that place its natural enemy which will hold it in check.
     When a destructive bug succeeds in escaping from its home and getting to some other country it so thrives and multiplies that it soon eats up and destroys all of the material upon which it feeds, and if that happens to be anything like fruit the damage is incalculable. But if the country where the pest started can be found there also will be discovered some sort of an enemy which will destroy it.
     Sometimes this enemy is larger than the pest, and eats it bodily, as the coyote does a rabbit, and again the avenger is a little burrowing microbe or parasite which eats into the heart of the pest, even as the pest itself eats into the heart of the apple.
     As a rule the beneficial insect is never found in any place where the pest is reported, else the offenders would not be numerous enough to be classed as pests.
     How Mr. Compere searches for a destroyer when a new pest is reported will be illustrated by his hunt some years ago for an insect, that would kill the red scale on orange trees in California.
     The pest was spreading rapidly. Fruit shipments were decreasing. Orchardists, packers and railroads were losing money, and the prosperity of the State was threatened. Orange growers were chopping down the dead-limbed remains of their precious trees that had been paying them interest on $5,000 an acre. Sprays, fumes, paints, poisons and traps were expensive and had proved useless.
     But somewhere on the face of the globe, according to Mr. Compere's belief, was the Nemesis of the pest--perhaps a little microscopic mite no bigger than a pin point, but active enough to vanquish the bug that was bankrupting the farmers, and was more powerful than "all the King's horses and all the King's men" which could not stop the ravaging scale.
     Mr. Compere traveled in haste. From country to country of the civilized land he went, magnifiying glass in hand, hunting for the bug that none had seen, that none had named, but which, reasoning by the Darwinian theory, was presumed to exist. Nowhere in the civilized world was it found. The orange was an exotic in all of them, and came either with or without its pest-- never with the ally to help it fight its destroyer.
     Then went Compere to India, to Farther India: at last into the edge of China, cautiously there for the Boxers were up in arms and foreigners were not safe.
     At last Mr. Compere began to find orange trees with the scale, but always in such a small quantity as to be unnoticed by the growers, who were surprised when their attention was called to the matter.
     Mr. Compere knew than that his search was rewarded; that he had come to a land where there was a friendly bug fighting to protect the life of the tree. He looked and looked for it, but for awhile in vain. No ladybirds were to be seen tasting of the scale, no visible attack was being made upon it, yet it throve not. Then out came the magnifiying glass, and searching from tree to tree, at last in the yard of a Parsee he saw a minute insect, wee as a mite but strong and determined, boring a hole through the hard shell of one of the scales. Others were boring other scales.
     That was enough for Mr. Compere.
     He had found what the world was awaiting.
     The tree which saved the orange crop of California is now in the office of the State Board of Horticulture in San Francisco, and is shown on this page. From this tree, been bred enough of the insects to provide all required to protect the State of California.
     Mr. Compere's task is now more difficlut, for before he had to visit only orange-growing countries, while the Queensland fruit fly may have originated in any part of the world where fruit of any kind is grown. It is certain that it did not originate in Queensland, else there ouwld be found also its enemy, and it would be causing no trouble. At present the orchards of Queensland are useless and fruit is a thing of the past. Hawaii has also been invaded by a similar fly and now there is nothing to protect California but the vigilant quarantine maintained by the Board of Horticulture. Every avenue is being watched, for railroads and express companies realize that the advent of the fly would mean ruin to the State and to their business. So agents everywhere refuses to deliver to consignees any fruit, growing trees or shrubs unless the same have first been inspected by the quarantine officer of the board.
     Other work of the board's quarantine officers is the keeping out of the various "singing crickets," fruit bats and the mongoose, the latter animal is a constant favorite with incoming travelers from the Orient. It was originally introduced into Jamaica to eat the sugar cane rats. It did so. Then having much increased in numbers it ate all of the other rats and mice. Then it turned its attention to rabbits, gophers, snakes, lizards and ground nesting birds. Having eaten everything wild, the mongoose in Jamaica is now living on chickens, cats and puppy dogs, and the nervous inhabitants are wondering "what next?"
     So it will be seen that good work is being done by the State Board of Horticulture in defending us against pests of many sorts.
     It was in California, and largely through the efforts of Elwood Cooper of Santa Barbara, that the first practical work was done in using insects to fight insects. Now Australia, South Africa and the United States Government, as well as many individual States, have adopted the idea, but credit will always be due to California for first practically applying the great rule of nature that had before been only a theory of scientists.
     Mr. Compere is of course working primarily in the interest of the government of Australia, but his discoveries will benefit the whole world.
     Since the first work of our board in fighting insects with insects, more than $170,000 has been saved in one district of Alameda county, in the cost of spraying and disinfecting trees. Other parts of the State have been benefited in proportion.
     The Queensland fruit fly is of a yellowish brown color, slightly smaller than a house fly. Attacking a tree it proceeds from limb to limb with great rapidity, and in a few days the tempting apricots or peaches are filled with dozens of crawling atoms. In thirty days the fly matures and repeats its cycle of existence.
     No species of fruit is exempt. Melons, grapes, apples, pears, plums, peaches, oranges, lemons and, in fact, every fruit used as human food is attacked and devoured. And in a few years nothing but dry, barren limbs meet the summer sun where once were thousands of carloads of luscious fruits.
     Meanwhole the question remains-unanswered:
     Will Mr. Compere first find the enemy of the Queensland Fruit Fly, or will the Fly first find California?

Harold Compere
Harold Compere
Where Flies are Bred To Fight Flies
Queensland Fruit Fly

University of California at Riverside
George Compere was one of the premier explorers
in the history of biological control.
You may read his whole story by clicking on:
George Compere

George Compere died in 1928

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