It’s sounds like something out of a spy movie — as two state agencies combined for an aerial drop of special chemicals in eastern Iowa to hold off a potentially deadly invader. Iowa Department of Agriculture entomologist, Robin Pruisner, says the four-day operation covered Jackson, Allamakee and Winneshiek counties in an effort to stop the spread of the gypsy moth.
Pruisner says they had five planes that were releasing tiny little flakes that had a synthetic version of the pheromone that the female gypsy moth releases to attract the male moth to her. She says they release less than a cup of the flakes per acre, but they cause problems for male moths looking for romance.
She says the plastic flakes release the pheromone and the male moth thinks he is smelling the female, but the male can’t find the female as the flakes confuse him. The Ag Department is working with the D.N.R. on the project, and used moth traps set out last year to figure out where to spread the fake moth scent.
Pruisner says they had over 5,000 traps put out — mostly in eastern Iowa — and after reviewing the moths caught in the traps they determined there were four hot spots for moth activity. Pruisner says they have a computer program that then helps them plot the best places to try and prevent the spread of the moths.
She says the track record of this method going back to the 1990’s has proven to be very effective and they shouldn’t see an outbreak in the areas unless mother nature blows in something from Illinois or Wisconsin. Pruisner says Iowa is just getting started in the fight against the moths when compared to other neighboring states. This aerial trickery is expected to help the state slow the advance.
Pruisner says the gypsy moth normally advances about 20 miles each year, but this program should slow that to four miles. She says it also brings the level of the infestation down which keeps them from defoliating trees in consecutive years. Pruisner says the continued stripping of the leaves each year is what eventually causes the trees to die. While this method will slow the gypsy moth, Pruisner says it won’t help stop the spread of another tree pest.
Pruisner says they get asked if this approach will stop the emerald ash borer too, and she says it will not, as they haven’t found the right formula to work against the ash borer. The flights to drop the scented flakes began Monday and wrapped up Thursday. You can find out more information on the gypsy moth at: www.extension.iastate.edu/pme/GypsyMoth.html.