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New Methods for Controlling Oak Processionary Moths

35/2012, 16.10.2012

Deployment of an unmanned helicopter is being tested

Joint press release from the BfR, JKI and BAM

The infestation of oak trees with the oak processionary moth currently constitutes an acute health risk to residents and bystanders in several central areas of towns and communities. In order to control the moth better in residential areas in future, the option of deploying an unmanned helicopter is currently being tested. The tests are being conducted jointly by the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), Julius Kühn Institute (JKI) and the Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM) on a tree infested with oak processionary moths in Southern Brandenburg, near Paplitz. If this method proves successful, it will be of great significance for plant and health protection. The caterpillars of the processionary moth could then be controlled specifically on individual trees with insecticides approved for biocidal or pesticidal use.

Developing new strategies to control the oak processionary moth in urban centres was one of the demands made at a specialised meeting organised by the BfR and JKI in March 2012. The tests currently being conducted comply with this demand and are part of the search for supplementary or alternative methods to control the larvae of the oak processionary moth, which are a risk to human health due to infested trees in urban centres. For the tests, a free-standing oak tree was selected, around which there were no buildings in a radius of 300 metres. During the test, the unmanned helicopter does not spray any pesticides or biocides but rather a dye dissolved in water which is also used in marking tests in bodies of water and in cosmetic products. The extent of wetting of the tree is tested with the coloured solution, which is safe for humans, animals and the environment. It is also to be examined to what extent a deployed liquid spreads beyond the actual target. The scientists are expecting to acquire data on how the wind and the air current caused by the rotor blades affect the spread of the water droplets. The experiment is also intended to establish whether these mini helicopters are better suited to the health and safety needs bystanders and residents than the deployment of large helicopters with a pilot on board. Furthermore, the effectiveness and the operator safety of pest controllers of the mini helicopter method is examined   in comparison to applications from the ground or a lifting platform.

The scientists are trying to prove the assumption that the oak processionary caterpillar or other pest organisms can be controlled generally with this small and manoeuvrable flying device in densely populated urban areas. The mini helicopter weighs 65 kilograms and can carry up to 24 litres of spray liquid.

More tests on infested free-standing and alley trees in the region are scheduled for spring 2013.

The name oak processionary moth originates from the fact that the caterpillars march behind one another in chains with up to 20 parallel tracks when moving from one feeding area to another. . The health risk to humans is due to the fine hairs of the caterpillars from the third instar. When contact is made, the poison thaumetopoein contained in these hairs can cause itching and irritation of the eyes and respiratory tract. If the hairs are inhaled, respiratory distress, sore throat and even allergic shock can result. For this reason, the infestation of trees in central areas of towns and communities with the oak processionary moth constitutes a serious threat to the health of the residents.

About the BfR

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientific institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV). It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.

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