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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

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Graphic with title, Bugslinger, and subtitle that says: Helpful Wasps Get a Fast, Free Ride Into Farmers' Fields.A flying saucer called the Bugslinger soars across a cotton field.Graphic of a cotton patch, above which the Bugslinger flies.


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.


Graphic of three bad bugs that reads: Cotton aphids are tiny, but they suck sap from leaves of cotton plants. They also secrete a goo called honeydew. It can jam cotton gins and spinning equipment. What's more, cotton aphids carry viruses that cause plant disease.

Cotton is one of this country's most important crops. Learn more about cotton.

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.

Graphic that reads: One helpful wasp is named Aphelinus near paramali. The wasp's name is pronounced 'hay-fell-inn-us near PAIR-uh-mall-ee.'

Learn more about the wasp.

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.

Graphic of flying saucer on a cotton boll that reads: After a disk lands, the wasps creep out into a small opening. But they don't say, 'Take us to your leader!' Surprisingly, the wasps aren't hurt during their ride or their crash landing. You might think they'd get squished during the trip. But that didn't happen in the many tests that scientists conducted with dozens of the tiny 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.

Graphic of two wasps in the Bugslinger that reads: Bugslinger disk are about 4 inches in diameter and about an inch high.

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.

Written by Marcia Wood, with design/graphics by Chip Beuchert and Jody Shuart, Agricultural Research Service, Information Staff.

Click here to learn about the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and its Agricultural Research Service

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.


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Last Modified: 8/12/2016
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