Technical expert Jeff Weier explains this significant advance in stored product moth control
Pheromones are powerful tools that most animals use to communicate. In some insects, pheromones play a critical role in the mating process and the growth of infestations.
In 1959, the first insect sex pheromone, Bombykol, was isolated from the silkworm moth. Since then, hundreds of pheromones have been discovered for hundreds of insects. A few of these pheromones have been synthesized for commercial use to monitor for insects.
Sex pheromones are the primary materials that attract males to females and one of the more common types of pheromones. Females release these volatile compounds (like Bombykol) into the environment and attract males. The males follow the plumes of pheromone back to the female by following a concentration gradient. Once they are near the female, the males can mate and the female can lay her viable eggs and complete the life cycle.
Completing the life cycle is how pest insects like Stored Product Moths, Cigarette Beetles and Warehouse Beetles grow their population and spread infestation.
Because of the strong attractiveness of sex pheromones, they can be used as lures in traps to capture male insects. This can aid in detection of activity of these insects. Sex pheromones are most effective for stored product moths, cigarette beetle and warehouse beetle and are commonly used for this purpose.
Mating disruption is the use of these sex pheromones to confuse the male insects so they cannot find the females, thus preventing mating and suppressing the growth and spread of infestations. Mating disruption relies upon several features of the insect’s biology:
- It works best on insects where the adult lives for a short period of time. Short-lived adults must find a mate and reproduce quickly if the population is to grow. In species with long-lived adults, confused males may still find females but it takes more time.
- Adult insects that feed little or not at all are more vulnerable. These adults will use up their energy reserves searching for females while confused.
- Adults that leave the food source every generation for mating flights are more vulnerable. Insects where the adults are packed close together in their food will stumble across each other even if confused.
Mating disruption is currently developed and is working in the field for stored product moths such as Indianmeal Moths, Cocoa Moths, Almond Moths, Tobacco Moths and Mediterranean Flour Moths. Since these moths share components of their pheromones, one pheromone works for all of them.
Mating disruption products consist of dispensers that contain large quantities of pheromone. These dispensers are placed in the treatment area where they release strong plumes of pheromones. Male moths cannot differentiate between these “dispenser plumes” and the authentic plumes created by female moths. The confusion occurs as they follow these diversionary plumes, exhausting themselves before they can mate.
Even though they do not kill anything, these products are, by definition, pesticides – they modify insect behavior and are intended to control the pest. They are registered with EPA .
Sprague has been using mating disruption since 2003. Treatment has been successful in every situation. I consider this one of the most significant advances in stored product moth control since methyl bromide was introduced as a space fumigant.