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Entomologist Michael McGuire examines biodegradable pesticide-treated spheres in an apple orchard.

Read: More about the research in Agricultural Research magazine.

Biodegradable Decoy Reduces Insecticide Use

By Ben Hardin
January 12, 2000

A biodegradable decoy that “fatally attracts” apple maggot flies or other insect pests has been patented by Agricultural Research Service scientists and cooperators. Hung in trees at the edge of orchards, the spherical decoy--coated with sugar, high fructose corn syrup, latex enamel paint and an insecticide--may provide an alternative to repeated chemical insecticide sprays.

If not controlled, 1/4-inch-long, black-and-white-striped adult apple maggot flies can inflict millions of dollars in damage to orchards. They lay eggs just below the apples’ skins. Maggots hatch and feed, creating tunnels through the apples, which begin to decay and then drop to the ground.

ARS scientists at the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research at Peoria, Ill., researched the decoy with colleagues at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst; Michigan State University at East Lansing; and the Biotechnology Research and Development Corp. at Peoria. The decoy is designed to suit insects’ preferences for color, shape, size and surface texture. Apple maggot flies fall for an apple-size sphere painted black which, like a red apple, doesn’t reflect ultraviolet light.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific research agency.

Preliminary field tests showed the decoy maintained 70 percent of its insect-killing power after three weeks in Massachusetts orchards. And in other tests, a similar decoy protected apples as well as three applications of the commonly used insecticide azinphosmethyl.

Commercial manufacture and sales of the decoys containing registered pesticides for use in the United States would require approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Fruit Spheres Inc., Macomb, Ill., has agreed to produce decoys for large-scale tests on the apple maggot fly and related insects such as the blueberry maggot fly, the cherry fruit fly and the walnut husk fly.

An article about the research appears in the January issue of ARS' Agricultural Research magazine. 

Scientific contact: Michael R. McGuire, ARS, National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, Peoria, Ill., phone (309) 681-6595, fax (309) 681-6693,