ARS News is reporting that scientists may have found a better way to control the cactus moth (Cactoblastis cactorum), a South American insect that preys upon various species of prickly pear cacti (Opuntia spp.).
While there has been some success with releasing sterile male moths into wild populations (sterile insect technique, or SIT), irradiating the males to the point of sterility also left them lazy and less likely to compete with non-sterile males for a mate. Results have shown that dosing the moths with a lower level of radiation gave scientists what they needed: male moths with reduced fertility, rather than sterility, that are much more interested in finding a mate and produce sterile offspring. Field tests for this technique are currently going forward on an island in Alabama, the outermost edge of the moth invasion, which has gradually been spreading from South America up into U.S. territory.
Interested readers may also want to check out previous ISW posts about the cactus moth.