Helpful insects may soon have a new way of getting a free ride into farmers' fields--on a flying saucer. The insects are small wasps, but they won't sting you!
Instead, they will attack cotton aphids.
Farmers who free lots of the helpful wasps in their fields might be able to raise healthy cotton plants without using as much insecticide. This could help the environment and save money, too.
It would take days for farmers to walk all through their cotton fields and let loose groups of wasps in many different places. That's why scientists invented the Bugslinger. This cool device flings small, round disks loaded with wasps. The Bugslinger can fit in the back of a pickup truck. A farmer could drive around the edge of the field, stopping every now and then to launch another crew of little wasps.
Do you think the wasps get dizzy, though? If so, they get over it fast. After all, these insects are found about 100 miles from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Maybe they were destined to become astronauts!
The researchers who invented the Bugslinger, officially known as the "Aerodynamic Transport Body," are Lyle M. Carter, Joseph H. Chesson and John V. Penner. They work for the Agricultural Research Service.
They're made of powdered limestone. Limestone is made up of shells and skeletons of tiny sea animals known as invertebrates (in-VERT-uh-braits). Probably the chalk in your classroom has limestone in it.
Water--from rain, sprinklers or irrigation furrows--eventually causes the limestone disk to break down and get recycled into the soil.
Now the researchers want to test disks made out of natural materials that would help the soil, such as compacted peat moss or manure.
Lyle M. Carter, Joseph H. Chesson and John V. Penner are at the Western Integrated Cropping Systems Research Unit
Bugslinger story in Agricultural Research magazine
Want to see what a cotton aphid really looks like up close? Click here.