MSU Attacks Coddling Moths With Drones

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Chris Adams and Larry Gut, entomologists in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University (MSU) in the United States, are using drones to drop parasitic insects over apple orchards to attack codling moths.

Codling moths, or CMs, are the blight of farmers around the world. Originating from Asia Minor, these larvae are small – usually grey or born insects – with square-tipped front wings that they hold roof-like over the body when at rest. In motion, these moths adore apple or pear trees, biting into their fruit, thereby making them unmarketable.

Codling moths

Codling moths

Although these moths mysteriously avoid Japan and parts of mainland Asia, the larvae of these insects have haunted North America’s apple growing districts for more than 200 years. And, in some regions without effective control, farmers have lost more than 50% of the crop.

Farmers retaliate by using pheromone traps – namely traps with excreted chemicals from other CMs to trigger changed behavior. Farmers also use parasites, like the Ascogaster quadridentata that attack mature larvae and the Trichogramma sp. that eat their way into codling moth eggs. In this way, farmers disrupt the reproduction chain of these insects.

The problem is these methods are costly.

They’re also time consuming – particularly since farmers drive up and down their fields for hours, dropping locally bought parasites to inhibit codling moths.

In contrast, MSU’s drones drop these insects in 40 acres of property in less than 5 minutes, freeing farmers for other tasks.

Preparing a drone for take off at MSU

More recently, MSU has partnered with both Nestle’s Gerber Baby Food and M3 Consulting Group to introduce their drone-dropping-insect project to farmers that need it. Gerber’s Baby Food requires organic or minimally sprayed fruit with strict pesticide residue guidelines, while M3 Consulting Group is an agriculture innovation company that uses drones to spray those insects.

According to Carolyn Malmstrom, associate professor of plant biology at MSU: “The heart of this is… It’s really a revolution in what [drones]can do.” with the potential for these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to scan fields more quickly and effectively than humans to:

  • forecast tree production and yield for the season
  • monitor the health of trees and prevalence of fungal disease
  • measure tree height and growth
  • visualise the electromagnetic spectrum in ranges that the human eye cannot

Adams and Gut received funding from Project GREEN and the Washington State Tree Fruit Commission to help farmers improve their yields and save their fruits from moths.


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Leah Zitter is an award-winning High-Tech writer/ journalist with a PhD in Research and clients that include the Association For Advancing Automation (A3).

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