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ARS Patents New Fruit Fly Lure and Trap

By Jesús García
May 23, 2001

A fruit fly lure and trap that combines chemical and visual stimuli to more effectively control fruit flies--including the Mediterranean fruit fly, or medfly--has been patented by Agricultural Research Service scientists in Miami, Fla. The research was led by chemist Robert Heath at the ARS Subtropical Exotic Plant Insect Research Unit, Miami.

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service estimates that the medfly alone--not counting the damage inflicted by other fruit flies--would generate agricultural losses of about $1.5 billion a year if it were to become established in the continental United States. Those losses would be the result of export sanctions, lost markets, treatment costs, reduced crop yields, deformities and premature fruit drop.

The chemical stimulus in the new trap is derived from three chemicals that have been isolated from food baits: ammonia, putrescine and trimethylamine. The chemicals lure the flies into the trap, where they are retained and induced to feed on a panel that contains a feeding stimulant and toxicant.

The cylindrical shape of the trap provides the visual stimulus by mimicking the three- dimensionality of host fruit. Clear panels at the top and bottom take advantage of the flies’ instinctive desire to move towards light, where a lethal sugary toxicant awaits them.

The adult female medfly damages ripe fruit by making a hole and depositing her eggs under the skin of the fruit. Once the larvae hatch, they begin to satisfy their ravenous appetites by feeding on the pulp inside the fruit, rendering it unfit for human consumption.

As early as 1929, the Mediterranean fruit fly--Ceratitis capitata--had made its mark in fruit orchards in Florida. After apparently being eradicated, it was spotted again in 1956. Since then, periodic infestations have occurred in Florida, California and Texas.

An article describing this research in greater detail appears in the May issue ofAgricultural Research, ARS’ monthly magazine.

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

Scientific contact: Robert R. Heath, ARS U.S. Subtropical Horticultural Research Laboratory, Miami, Fla.; phone (305) 254-3643, fax (305) 238-9330,