Scientists in the United Kingdom are turning moths gay to prevent them from mating, thus saving crops from their destructive larvae.
It could also prevent the overuse of pesticides, which has so far been the conventional method of killing off the larvae of the codling moth. But this has also killed more beneficial insects, as well as devaluing the crop.
The codling moth (Cydia pomonella) is largely grey and has copper-striped wings. It lays its eggs on fruit trees. The yellow and black larvae – known in America as “the worm in the apple” – hatch and then burrow into ripening fruit to feast on the seeds.
The “gaying” of the moth is being carried by food scientists at the large UK supermarket chain Sainsbury’s. They have devised a technique whereby a male moth is coated with pheromone used by the females to attract mates. The males home in on the scented decoy only to find another male, while females remain unfertilised.
The Daily Express quotes a Sainsbury’s spokesman as saying: “Codling moths have the ability to devastate entire crops if left uncontrolled. The new technique means males are attracted to males, disrupting the breeding cycle and reducing dramatically the number of eggs able to produce baby moths.
“Pheromone is a natural substance and, unlike other chemicals, is safe to use on both conventional and organic crops.”
The chairman of the conservation charity Buglife, Alan Stubbs, says codling moths use their antennae to detect microscopic amounts of pheromone released by females up to two miles (3.2 kilometres) away.
“Using a technique to protect crops that does not rely on sprays, which affect other species, is the safest way to control a pest.”