Call it “Fifty Shades of Grey” Sprague Pest Solutions style. No, we haven’t hired the fictional Seattle entrepreneur Christian Grey as a service technician but the Sprague Pest Experts are delving into the romantic activities of one particular group of insects our food processing clients definitely are not interested in seeing any further.
The Sprague Pest Experts are putting a damper on the romance stored product pests have with food processing and storage facilities with just the right antidote – mating disruption.
Mating disruption is the process of introducing artificial pheromones into a facility with the intention of distracting male stored product pests – Indian meal and flour moths mainly – as they are trying to make a love connection with their female counterparts during mating season.
The artificial pheromones create “false trails” that make it harder for male moths to find their soul mates and when that happens mating doesn’t occur, eggs are not laid and the populations of these destructive pests drops.
“Male Indian meal moths communicate with females through pheromone plumes and if those are disrupted it can have a significant impact on their ability to mate and reproduce,” says Jeff Weier, technical director at Sprague Pest Solutions.
Weier says adult moths have a short life span and compares it to buying a new car with a full tank of gas but no means to refill the tank once you drive off the lot.
“Moths emerge from pupae with a ‘full tank’ but as they start searching for females to mate with they burn off their energy reserves and can die quickly,” says Weier. “The artificial pheromones cause this disruption making it harder for males to located females and causing them to use more energy in the process.”
He says that “disrupted” female moths do not eat every day and will start reabsorbing their natural egg load to survive. This lessens the amount of eggs available even if a male moth finds them to mate.
Even though pheromones products are naturally occurring this particular application method makes them a registered pesticide. However, they are certified for use in organic food processing facilities and there is no danger of food product absorbing the pheromones unless it comes in direct contact with the dispenser.
The pheromone dispensers are typically placed twice a year (April/May and July/August) to ensure coverage through the entire moth mating season. The dispensers are placed within facilities and can treat an entire warehouse but they have also proven successful in treating specific sections or even aisles in a facility.
A thorough pest monitoring program is also a key part of the process. Sprague uses standard pheromone traps and light traps to track pest population levels, and the fewer female moths that are caught the more likely that the program is working.
Weier says technicians check the traps twice a month may have to adjust the number and location of the dispensers and increase levels of the artificial pheromones to tackle larger infestations.
“Mating disruption for stored product pests is a selective process and only works on the targeted pest but it is the most significant advancement in stored product moth control since the industry used methyl bromide,” says Weier, who has been using mating disruption programs in client’s facilities for more than a decade. “It has had almost miraculous results in some cases.”