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ARS, Australian researchers team up against fruit bugs

Controlling two species of semitropical bugs that damage a variety of fruit and nut crops is the objective of a joint research project between the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and Australian researchers.

Entomologist Jeffrey Aldrich and chemist Ashot Khrimian, both with the ARS Invasive Insect Biocontrol and Behavior Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., are evaluating a synthetic pheromone they produced for use in traps.

The researchers had previously identified what they suspect are distinctly different pheromones emitted by the banana spotting bug Amblypelta lutescens and the fruit spotting bug A. nitida to attract mates. Aldrich and Khrimian are now evaluating a compound that they believe replicates the pheromone released by A. lutescens males to attract females. Scientists also hope to eventually develop a compound to attract A. nitida.

The work is part of a cooperative research project between ARS and the Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries. The Australians are funding the research because the insects are major pests in tropical and semitropical areas, attacking mangoes, pecans, papaws, cashews and avocadoes. The insects are unpredictable, impossible to see and produce rotten spots that make the fruit unmarketable.

As part of the agreement, Australian scientists are capturing A. lutescens, putting them in glass containers and pulling air over them and into filters to extract the gases given off. They use solvents to extract the compounds from the filters. The ARS researchers are comparing the chemical composition of those compounds with the compound they have synthesized.

The effort could also help U.S. farmers. The insects belong to a group called the leaf-footed bugs that are members of the coreid family. Scientists have yet to identify attractant pheromones for any coreids.

Coreids also are an emerging threat because of the proliferation of genetically modified crops. Genetically modified corn, cotton, soybeans and other crops target specific pests and have reduced the need to spray insecticides, but periodic spraying kept coreids in check.

ARS is the principal intramural scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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