COLUMBIA, Mo. — Farmers who have had issues with the invasive Japanese beetle destroying their crops might soon have an effective way to combat the insect. Assistant professor and MU Extension specialist, Kevin Rice is conducting research to understand how producers can protect their crops using an attract-and-kill strategy.
“We use pheromones and plant volatiles that we know the beetles are highly attracted to,” Rice said. “And we are placing those attractive lures on insecticidal impregnating netting. This netting is very similar to the malaria netting that they use to keep mosquitoes off people. It has a very low mammal toxicity.”
According to the Wiley Online Library, one of the largest collections of online journals and research sources, plant volatiles and pheromones are naturally produced by a plant to attract pollinators, protect themselves from pests and viruses, or these compounds can even lure predators like Rice explained.
Rice explained the netting is placed on the outside borders of crops such as soybeans and corn. The Japanese beetles are then attracted by the compounds on the lures. When the beetles land on the net they pick up a toxic dose of insecticide eliminating them from damaging crops.
“Some of the preliminary lab work that has come out of Tennessee State University and Jason Oliver’s lab have found that the beetle, they land on that netting for three seconds, they pick up enough toxic insecticide to die within 24 hours,” Rice added. “So this could be a really low maintenance and highly effective way of killing lots of beetles before they cause economic damage in the crops.”
Researchers expect this method will not affect “non-target” insects such as butterflies and bees, due to the pheromones and plant volatiles used specifically lure the Japanese beetle only. If the natural compounds used are not attractive to different insects or predators, they will have no reason to land on the net, Rice explained.
“The goal is growers will be able to control the beetle while using less chemical sprays in the actual crop,” Rice said. “Therefore you’re not killing as many non-targets and you don’t have as much insecticide costs in production.”
The field trials are currently in the preliminary stages and the research is being conducted on research farms. Like other research experiments, the introductory trials must be complete and analyzed, before the team can introduce research trials on commercial farms, Rice said.
“We start on research farms where there’s low risk,” Rice said. “Because there is a small possibility we would attract more beetles from surrounding areas using these pheromones. They may not make it to the net and they may end up with higher numbers in the crop itself. So that’s one thing we’re going to verify by looking at damage and the number of beetles in the crop itself to see whether it’s a negative or positive influence.”
While this trial is new and there is no data quite yet to determine the strategy’s effectiveness, the MU Extension specialist said similar research has been conducted and proven effective for the invasive brown marmorated stink bug when testing it in orchards. Rice said his team is hopeful that this method will also prove to be a successful tactic against the Japanese beetle adding to insect-control options for producers.
“Right now it’s really just a chemical control,” Rice concluded. “It is an invasive species so we don’t have a lot top-down predators that control it. There’s not a lot of natural enemies because it came from Asia. We’re hoping this netting will provide that for us in the future.”