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CFIA scientist traps elusive invasive beetles with sexy insect perfume

By: Shelly Donaldson

Dr. Vasily Grebennikov, a Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) scientist known the world over for his work with beetles, has conducted breakthrough research using the sex pheromones of invasive beetles. This research will help find the pests and prevent them from causing extensive damage to Canada's forests.

"Foreign bugs are like criminals who won't give you their names," says Dr. Grebennikov, the CFIA's lead researcher on beetles that pose a risk to plant resources. "Too often, here in Canada, we get foreign beetles with no identity."

Doctor Vasily Grebennikov

Caption: Dr. Vasily Grebennikov says invasive foreign bugs are like criminals who won't give you their names.

Invasive wood-boring beetles are notorious hitch-hikers. For example, the Asian long-horned beetle and the Emerald ash borer were most likely introduced to Canada with international trade – most often arriving in wooden shipping pallets.

Over the last decade, these destructive beetles have killed millions of trees in North America.

The invasive beetles have often only been detected by chance by a member of the general public, years after they had arrived. Efforts to eradicate them, or at least to control their spread, have cost millions of dollars.

"That's why we need improved survey tools – to detect non-native bark and wood-boring beetles much earlier after they have arrived so we can minimize the damage they do," adds Dr. Grebennikov.

The results of the research, a joint effort between the CFIA's Ottawa Plant Laboratory and the Canadian Forest Service, were published in January 2016. They appear in the European Journal of Entomology, in an Open Access paper under the title, "Efficacy of semiochemical-baited traps for detection of Scolytinae species (Coleoptera: Curculionidae) in the Russian Far East."

Conducted in 2009 and 2010, the research experiment involved setting up elaborate traps in a forest in eastern Russia, which has a similar climate and shares many species of trees and plant-eating beetles with Canada.

"We wanted to design something that smelled irresistible to the beetles – and those smells are sex and food," he says.

The traps were baited with various combinations of synthetic beetle sex pheromones and ethanol, the same smell that trees give off when they are dying. Dr. Grebennikov tested the most effective combination and concentration of pheromones and ethanol that would lure the highest number of beetle species.

"The traps mimic the shape of trees," explains Dr. Grebennikov. "The beetle is attracted by the smell, flies in, and then falls into the container; that's how we collect the samples."

The results of the research show that using both beetle pheromones and ethanol increases the number of beetles caught, as well as the likelihood of detecting potentially invasive species.

"This trapping method will help us detect an invasive pest infestation in the early stages, when specimen density is still extremely low," adds Dr. Grebennikov.

"That way, this research will help us be more proactive in finding these culprits as soon as possible," Dr. Grebennikov says, "before their devastating habits do too much damage to Canada's forests."

Dr. Grebennikov’s next fieldwork in Asia is scheduled for June-July 2016.

Destructive beetles related to this Anoplophora species have killed millions of trees in North America.

Destructive beetles related to this Anoplophora species have killed millions of trees in North America.

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