By Laura McGinnis
USDA Agricultural Research Service
New research from the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) shows that two nepetalactone compounds found in catnip can discourage stable flies from biting cattle.
The stable fly is a major pest of U.S. cattle. These biting insects create stress and discomfort for the animals whose blood forms their diet. ARS scientists estimate the flies’ bloodsucking habits could cost the U.S. cattle industry $2 billion annually in reduced production efficiency and milk yield losses.
Traditional insecticides—in addition to being impractical for organic farmers—have had limited success in countering this biting pest. Fortunately, scientists at the ARS Agroecosystem Management Research Unit in Lincoln, Neb., are developing a novel "push-pull strategy" to improve sustainable stable fly management. Although similar tactics have been employed successfully with other pests, the push-pull strategy is not commonly used to control stable flies.
ARS entomologists Jerry Zhu and Dennis Berkebile are working with industry and Kansas State University collaborators to identify aromatic compounds that attract and repel stable flies. Identifying volatile and nonvolatile compounds to lure and repel stable flies is an important step in developing biobased control tools for this pest.
The scientists have already identified two additional nepetalactone compounds that will discourage even starved stable flies from biting cattle and feeding on their blood. In laboratory assays, these compounds have a success rate of more than 98 percent. The same compounds have a 95 percent success rate in discouraging female stable flies from laying eggs—another important element of stable fly control.
Zhu and his colleagues have also identified several compounds that elicited an antenna response in stable flies, similar to that observed in response to pheromones. These results suggest that these compounds could be used as attractants for stable fly management.
Zhu is currently working with ARS scientists at the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Ill., to develop technology for field applications.
The research has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Medical and Veterinary Entomology.
ARS is the principal intramural scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
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