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Fruit Fly Dyeing Continues Overseas

By Ben Hardin
December 8, 1997

In tests abroad, new technology from USDA’s Agricultural Research Service continues showing promise in suppressing fruit flies with SureDye, a mixture of bait and a food-grade red dye. Insect pests that eat SureDye drop dead soon after they are exposed to sunlight.

In ARS-led tests in tropical fruit orchards, SureDye usually killed more than 95 percent of the pests. The dye’s targets in Morocco were Mediterranean fruit flies; in Mexico, Mexican fruit flies; and in Surinam, carambola fruit flies. The latter is the first Asian tropical fruit fly species known to invade the Western Hemisphere. Agricultural officials are keeping a wary eye, since it poses a potential threat to fruit commerce.

In previous tests, SureDye has usually performed at least as well as malathion, the chemical insecticide that is a standard tool in fruit fly eradication. SureDye may also pose less of a hazard to the environment and beneficial insects such as bees.

SureDye was developed by ARS scientists and a Baltimore-based firm, PhotoDye International, Inc. The dye is D&C Red No. 28. But fruit flies consume it mainly because they crave the corn-protein-based bait. ARS entomologists Robert Mangan and Daniel Moreno developed the bait. Mangan leads the Crop Quality and Fruit Insects Research Unit at ARS’ Subtropical Agricultural Research Center in Weslaco, Texas.

Mangan’s next international tests with SureDye will start soon in Brazil and on Portugal’s Island of Madeira. It previously showed promise against Mediterranean fruit flies in California, Caribbean fruit flies in Florida and Mexican fruit flies in Texas.

PhotoDye has asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to register SureDye for use in U.S. medfly outbreaks.

A groundbreaking ceremony Dec. 8 marks a boost on the way for Weslaco’s fruit fly and other research. ARS will build a 24,000-square-foot building for about 50 of the center’s research and administrative personnel. In addition to Mangan’s research group, the center has a Beneficial Insects Research Unit and an Integrated Farming and Natural Resources Research Unit.