Invasive Nettle Moth Triggers Hawaii Research
By Marcia Wood
November 18, 2009
Like children everywhere, kids in
Hawaii love to run barefoot through tall grass. But an invasive pest called the
nettle moth caterpillar can take the fun out of this simple childhood pleasure,
according to Agricultural Research
Service (ARS) research entomologist
The sharp, spiky hairs of the caterpillar, Darna pallivitta, can
cause a painful, stinging sensation. Besides being a hindrance to childhood
play, this agricultural pest poses a hazard to people working with palm plants
and other commercially grown ornamentals that the insect attacks.
That's why Jang, whos at the
Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center in Hilo, Hawaii, is working with
colleagues in that state and elsewhere to explore new ways to thwart the
In a highly experimental approach, Jang plans to use sexually sterilized
fruit flies, such as sterilized melon flies, as winged carriers of an alluring
nettle moth scent, a component of what's known as a pheromone. Sterile melon
flies are a logical choice because techniques for producing large numbers of
themto disrupt their normal reproduction and cause their populations to
crashare already in place.
In theory, sterilized melon flies, each carrying a drop of the nettle moth
chemical on its back, could be set free in moth-infested locales in Hawaii to
quickly and inexpensively distribute the scent wherever they fly. Like decoys,
the melon flies would create confusion among amorous male moths that use the
scent to find female moths.
Jang and colleagues have described the concept and pheromone component in
published scientific articles. ARS and the State of Hawaii Department of Agriculture
have provided funding to Jang and co-researchers to pursue this innovative
idea, known as "mobile mating disruption."
Former postdoctoral research associate Matthew S. Siderhurst identified and
synthesized the nettle moth pheromone compound in early experiments funded by
ARS and the Hawaii
Invasive Species Council.
The pheromone component can also be placed in traps to detect the
caterpillar and monitor its spread, Jang noted.
ARS is the principal intramural scientific research agency of the
U.S. Department of Agriculture.