No one quite knows when the Light Brown Apple Moth arrived on the shores of California, but after DNA identification in 2007, it wasted no time pitting the California Department of Food and Agriculture and the populace of San Francisco against one another. Today the CDFA announced a new strategy for the eradication campaign: releasing bioengineered sterile moths to lure-in amorous males.
Ever tried to neuter a moth? Not easy…
Indigenous to Australia, the non-descript moth breeds prolifically with an average of three broods generations per year. However, much like Paul Hogan before it, the tiny moth has spread its wings and fanned out around the globe with its ridiculous little accent. Actually, it’s more likely that the eggs or larvae stowed away in cargo, but whatever their star-vehicle, they have since been identified in New Zealand, New Caledonia, the British Isles, Hawaii and now the US mainland.
Upon identifying the invasive moth, the USDA declared war. Specifically, the California Department of Food and Agriculture began an aggressive…
…spraying campaign launching hot female moth pheromones in the San Francisco and Santa Cruz areas. The idea was to confuse the male moths into thinking females were everywhere, thereby preventing them from finding a viable mate. Just what San Francisco needs, confusing sexual chemicals sprayed in the air!
Not surprisingly, many San Franciscans objected to being doused in noxious moth sex fumes. Real or imagined, over 600 adverse health effects were reported in relation to the spraying. Naysayers also pointed to the fact that no actual California crop damage had yet been reported and that Hawaii claims the moths are actually a boon, consuming invasive species but avoiding the native ones.
Australia, New Zealand and Britain feel very differently however, and report substantial crop damage annually at the mouths of the moth larvae. The CDFA also points out that the moths could threaten beloved native species like the redwood.
With San Francisco’s fickle tastemakers having ruled weaponized-moth-spray-sex “uncool,” the CDFA scientists are trying a new approach by releasing specially designed sterile moths. The hope is that these infertile female moths will attract the male light brown apple moths and prevent them from successfully mating with normal females. While this new method is still likely to attract critics, it seems less likely to strike fear in the hearts of Whole Foods patrons.
Fresh on the heels of our insects-as-syringes post, Zooillogix sees all sorts of applications for moth born medicine: Vaccines in third-world countries; Birth control in middle schools; etc. We envision moths as a modern day Tinker Bell, just with pixie dust that tastes like crushed Aspirin!