Friday, July 16, 2010

Good News for Maine Grape Growers Fighting Japanese Beetles

Ever since 1916, when Japanese beetles were first discovered in a New Jersey nursery, they've been wreaking havoc for gardeners and farmers in just about every state east of the Mississippi.  This invasive species can be difficult and expensive to control, because unlike their native Japan, there are few predators and environmental factors to keep the population in check here.

Whether you're growing table or wine grapes, vineyard owners everywhere are always trying to stay one step ahead of these hungry pests, and scientists have been working hard to find a solution. One of the most important breakthroughs came earlier this year when scientists at the University of Kentucky found that Geraniums may have an intoxicating, if not toxic effect on Japanese beetles. According to UK entomologists Daniel Potter and David Held,

"... when Japanese beetles fed upon the petals of geranium, generally in less than an hour the bugs enter a kind of narcotic state," says Potter. "They curl up on their back and pull their legs close to their underside. They'll twitch if you disturb them, but they're clearly in dreamland."

In the lab, the beetles remained in the drunken state for about 12 hours before waking up again and returning to feast on geranium petals. However, it is believed that outside of the laboratory, many of these beetles would fall victim to predators and dehydration during drunken stupor. Scientists are now working to figure out what exactly it is in the geranium that has this powerful effect on the Japanese beetles in order to hopefully extract it in concentrated forms for use in some sort of organic pesticide.

For now, we're not racing to plant geraniums all over the vineyard. After all, it's quite possible that the plants could attract more beetles than they incapacitate, but scientists are hopeful that by the beginning of the next growing season, a geranium inspired pesticide shoud be available to consumers.

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