Asian Innovations in Insect Control

August 20, 2011

Innovations in Insect Control in Asia date back almost 2,000 years to when ancient Chinese farmers learned the art of biological insect control. China’s ancient orchardists annually introduced colonies of predatory ants to cultivated trees to control caterpillars and other pests of crops such as citrus. Ancient Chinese biocontrol practices included constructing bamboo bridges between trees, so predatory ants could easily wander from tree to tree foraging for pests.

Fast forward to the twenty-first century: Tea is arguably the second most widely consumed beverage, after water. Tea production occupies 2.7 million ha (6.7 million acres) in 34 countries, with 78% of production in Asia and 16% in Africa. Sustainable tea production practices emphasize displacing pesticides with cultural and biological control practices to control spider mites and other pests in tea plantations.

“The application of natural enemies in tea pest control aroused a large amount of investigations in the tea producing countries,” reported Yang Yajun and colleagues at the Tea Research Institute of Chinese Academy of Sciences at the 2005 International Symposium on Innovation in Tea Science and Sustainable Development in Tea Industry. “In South India, investigations showed the introduction of three species of entomophagous fungi in the control of tea spider mite (Oligonychus coffeae). In Japan, the use of pesticide-resistant predatory mite resulted in successful control…In Japan, one fungal preparation and one bacterial preparation were registered and used in control of tea diseases.” In China and Japan, viruses stop pesky leafrollers and loopers. Japan also has five fungal biocontrol products, one bacterial biocontrol preparation, and several kinds of parasitic and predatory natural enemy preparations to control tea insect pests.

“Great achievements in the application of physical and agricultural control methods in controlling the tea pests were advanced,” said Yajun et al. In Japan, China, and Malawi (Africa), yellow sticky traps and reflective films (near ultra-violet light) help control tea aphids, thrips, and leafhoppers (70-80% pest reduction). “A special mist wind insect-sucking machine was developed in Japan,” and it reduces tea leafhopper, whitefly, and spider mite populations.

Sex pheromones have been used for mating disruption in Japanese tea gardens since 1983 to control a pesky tea leafroller. Sex pheromones are also being used against other tea pests in Japan and China. Natural volatiles from the tea plant that attract natural enemies but not pests are also under development. For example, the April 2004 Chinese Journal of Applied Ecology (15(4):623-626) reported that beneficial lady beetles, green lacewings, and hover flys (syrphids) controlling tea aphids were attracted by natural compounds such as nerol from tea flowers, n-octanol from intact tea shoots, and geraniol, methyl salicylate, benzaldehyde, and hexanal from aphid-damaged tea shoots.

At Entomological Society of America (ESA) annual meetingss, California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) officials report that T. Kanzawa’s 1939 translation of Professor Dr. Shonen Matsumura‘s 1931 book, 6000 Illustrated Insects of Japan-Empire, is still used to help with identification and control of invasive insect pests like the dusky-winged fruit fly (Drosophila suzukii). Oregon entomologist Jana Lee told the ESA that the Japanese get 100% fruit fly protection by placing 0.98 mm (0.04 inch) mesh over blueberries 20 days pre-harvest. After the harvest, 100% of fruit fly eggs and newly hatched larvae on cherries are killed by holding the fruit at 1.6-2.2 C (29-36 F). In Japanese experiments, fruit fly egg laying in cherries was reduced 30-60% with botanicals such as eucalyptus, neem, and tansy. In other promising Japanese research, Kotaro Konno and Hiroshi Ono told the ESA that latex from the same mulberry leaves used to safely grow silkworms since ancient times could be an effective botanical insecticide against other pests.

Since the 1920s, the USDA has been importing Japanese and Korean biocontrol organisms, like Tiphia wasps to control Oriental beetles and Japanese beetles attacking golf courses, turf, crops, and landscape ornamentals. Japan is currently patenting decoy tree technologies to help stop an explosive outbreak of oak wilt fungus (Raffaelea quercivora), caused by mass attacks of ambrosia beetles (Platypus quercivorus), said Masahiko Tokoro of the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute (FFPRI) in Ibaraki, Japan (See earlier blog post: The Asian Invasion -Insects in Global Trade).

In South Korean greenhouse tests, Sangwon Kim and Un Taek Lim of Andong National University told the ESA of greenhouse tests showing the superiority of yellow circles against a black background versus conventional rectangular yellow sticky traps for capturing pesky whiteflies and thrips. “In laboratory behavioral studies using different backgrounds and shapes, yellow sticky card with black background was 1.8 times more attractive than sticky card without background, and triangle attracted 1.5 times more sweetpotato whitefly (Bemisia tabaci) than square,” said Kim. Black sticky cards with small yellow circles caught 180% more sweetpotato whitefly than cards with larger circles.

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Rainy Days Wash Pests Away

October 26, 2009

WORLD WAR II was raging around The Netherlands from 1941 to 1944. But in Zeeland province entomologist D.J. Kuenen slogged on with his solitary, long-term studies of climate and rainfall effects on fruit tree red spider mites in apple and plum orchards. Even under the best conditions in peacetime, long-term ecological field studies that could aid in natural pest control are few and far between. The reason is simple: longterm ecological field studies are an expensive, labor-intensive, problematic way to advance a career in academia. The more-assured path to tenure and gainful employment is a series of quick, narrowly-focused lab studies yielding a plethora of speedily published papers in scholarly journals.

DDT and the synthetic pesticide era, along with high-yield chemical farming, exploded in the years immediately after World War II. The tedious years of meticulously gathered data on natural pest control from wind and rainfall (a form of overhead irrigation) was consigned to languish for decades under layers of library dust in tiny articles in obscure journals. Kuenen and his predecessors studying the pest control efficacy of wind and high-pressure water sprays were several decades ahead of their time. Much like the monk Gregor Mendel’s now-celebrated genetic experiments growing wrinkly and smooth garden peas.

Today, the pendulum is swinging back to more natural forms of pest control. Kuenen and his Roaring Twenties predecessors studying wind and rain as natural forms of pest control would be warmly welcomed at sustainable agriculture gatherings today. Ecological field studies showing that heavy rain showers and wind storms blasted away 90% of pesky spider mites would be spurring graduate students and inventive farmers to simulate the natural pest control benefits with artificial wind and water blasts from hoses, sprinklers, and other devices.


Beating the Bed Bug Blues

July 15, 2009

“SUCH BUGS and goblins in my life,” said Shakespeare’s Hamlet during the medieval era when “bug” meant bed bug. Indeed, bedbugs have been part of the human condition from prehistoric times. By 400 B.C. the ancient Greeks were scratching bedbug bites and singing the Big Bed Bug Blues. Bat caves, bird nests and animal barns are the natural habitats supporting bed bugs and their goblin-like natural enemies like itch mites, assassin bugs, assorted ants, centipedes, and spiders.

Though bedbug biocontrol by the currently-known crop of natural enemies seems better left to the Batcave and more rustic outdoorsy habitats, natural ecological principles still apply in human dwellings. Contrary to the DDT-nostalgia (interestingly, lacking scientific citations) infesting Wikipedia, pesticides cannot substitute for human smarts in fighting bedbugs. Even in the heyday of DDT bed bugs were hard to kill and there was pesticide resistance, Clemson University urban entomologist Eric Benson told an Entomological Society of America (ESA) annual meeting. Indeed, overdoing pesticides is likely to kill natural enemies and stimulate outbreaks of new indoor pests (e.g. rat mites).

An integrated pest management (IPM) approach pits human ingenuity and a multiplicity of tactics against bedbugs. Shripat Kamble of the University of Nebraska told an ESA annual meeting of traditional bedbug remedies rememebered from a childhood in India: “People commonly used in the summertime heat treatment. Keeping the cot outside in the hot sun,” and shaking the bed so the bugs spilled onto bare ground hot enough to kill. “Another treatment that was commonly done was boiling water, and then pouring boiling water through all the hiding areas of the bed bugs…A lot of times it worked, and sometimes we still had problems.”

Nobody, not even the professionals, has a surefire remedy guaranteed to work against bedbugs every time in every household. Like Shakespeare and the ancient Greeks, bedbugs are likely to remain a part of the modern human condition.