In the National News

Fungus Manipulates Ants for Survival

Penn State scientists used GIS mapping and 3-D imagery to track the activity of fungal-infected carpenter ants in Brazil. The parasitic fungus Ophiocordyceps camponoti-rufipedis, better known as the “zombie ant fungus,” infects and feeds on host ants, and before the fungus kills them, it “forces” ants to die in a location that ensures its spread. First, the study showed for the first time, that the fungus is not able to reproduce or spread when introduced inside an ant colony, partly due to “social immunity” (keeping the colony clean) and partly due to the environmental conditions. They also found that, although the fungus can reproduce outside, they did not find infected ants away from the colony. Through several years of field observations, they concluded that infected ants will return to the “doorstep” of the ant colony and begin feeding on nearby leaves. There, it dies while attached to the leaves so that the fungal spores can drop onto ants entering and leaving the colony, bypassing ant’s “social immunity” and ensuring the longevity of the fungus.

Stopping the Med Fly

The Mediterranean fruit fly infests more than 300 types of cultivated and wild fruits, vegetables, and nuts worldwide. One of the most environmentally-friendly management techniques is to release sterile males into the environment, interrupting the mating between wild males and females. The downside is that these males don’t tend to mate as well in the wild because the irradiation method used for sterilization weakens them. Published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers in Europe have developed a genetically engineered male fly that is able to mate with females, but produces only male offspring. They tested the fly’s effect in a simulated, caged environment, and found that the modified flies were capable of rapidly reducing the fly population. The next stage of the research will be to gain approval for open-field studies.

Beetle Shells Inspire a Brighter White

In recent years, many engineers having been looking to structures found in nature to inspire their designs. For example, the Cyphochilus beetle has ultra-white scales that are able to scatter light more efficiently than any other biological tissue known. Even current man-made technology is not able to produce a coating as white as these beetles can in such a thin layer. A new investigation published in Scientific Reports, looked at the optical properties of these scales. The study showed that the beetles have a compressed network of chitin filaments that is directionally-dependent, allowing high intensities of reflected light for all colors at the same time, which produces the intense white. In other words, the scales have a structure that is highly complex, giving rise to something that is greater than the sum of its parts. These findings will likely be relevant for many applications, enabling a whiter white of paper, plastics, and reflective paints, while using a smaller amount of material.

Electrocuting Emerald Ash Borers

The emerald ash borer, introduced into the U.S. in 2002, is said by some to have become the most destructive forest pest ever seen in North America. Monitoring for new introductions is important, and beetle catches on sticky traps may lag behind an active infestation. A large team of researchers tested high-voltage female decoys to bait and trap males. They tested 4 decoys. One group was a plastic decoy made from a nickel nano-coating mold of a dead female that retained the surface texture of the beetle. The second group was this same decoy, but painted metallic green, the third group was created from a 3-D printer that did not retain the beetle’s surface texture or color, and the fourth group was dead females. The decoys were then electrically wired and pinned onto forest trees. They found that the males only landed on, and thus were electrocuted by, the dead females and the realistic green painted plastic decoys. These results showed that the fine-scale texture of the visible surface is more important than color or shape for males to find resting females. The results will appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Welcome to New Vegetable IPM Associate

Bonnie Bunn recently joined the Utah Pests team to conduct outreach in vegetable integrated pest management. Bonnie is completing her M.S. in Biology at USU under Diane Alston. She has already made a great impact this summer by running the vegetable IPM advisories, monitoring and trapping for vegetable pests, and expanding our vegetable diagnostic images database. Bonnie will also develop fact sheets, expand our online content, and conduct presentations.


Useful Publications and Apps

  • idtools.org links to databases of photos and current information on 194 species that have the potential to become serious invasive pests.
  • The 2nd edition of Fungicides in Crop Protection includes information on new fungicide classes, the increased incidence of fungicide resistance, legislative requirements to reduce fungicide applications, and current trends in fungicide use.
  • Induced Resistance For Plant Defense is an updated 2nd edition book that covers this important topic of a potentially environmentally-benign pest control option in plants.
  • Basic and Applied Aspects of Biopesticides is one of the few books available that provides holistic information on all aspects of biopesticides.