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Insects caught in `sex traps'

Alluring sex traps are getting pest insects into sticky situations and putting New Zealand’s apples a bite above their overseas counterparts.

Plant and Food Research scientists are eliminating the need to use pesticides with “green” pest control techniques.

Plant and Food Research’s Dr Flore Mas is part of a team using chemical ecology to capture natural plant and insect odours and replicate them.

Scientists identify the chemical compounds of smell and recreate the most attractive smells – often sex odours, which are used in “pheromone traps”.

These odours are placed on sticky placards in vineyards and orchards to lure and capture pest insects, eventually killing them, and leaving residue-free produce.

It can be difficult to lure the insect to the traps when there are so many alluring scents in an orchard or vineyard, but scientists rely on the chemical communication, which drives insects’ desire to reproduce.

“Everyone wants to reduce pesticide and if we want to export food and crop. There is a lot of negative environmental runoff from using pesticides,” said Dr Mas. “It’s a more green and sustainable way than using pesticides because we don’t spray crops we just have pheromone traps”.

The traps are used on different types of insects including nocturnal moths, which rely heavily on their smelling sense.

The traps are used across New Zealand for kiwifruit, blackcurrant, apple trees and other produce and in and around airports and ports for biosecurity reasons.

_ Kate Davidson