Black light traps track pests

Published 9:59 pm Thursday, July 30, 2015

By Henry Luzzatto


Experts in agriculture use a lot of tools in their trade, but black light — once viewed only in the realm of novelty lighting — isn’t usually the first piece of equipment people think of when it comes to agriculture.

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But at the Southampton County Cooperative Extension, the experts monitoring insects and other potential threats to crops use black lights to track pests and record their numbers.

“We’re catching pests in order to relay information to farmers and growers,” said Austin Brown, the extension agent of agriculture and natural resources and crop and soil sciences for the Southampton County office.

Fortunately for farmers, right now, the numbers of potentially dangerous insects in the area are still low, according to the Virginia Ag Pest and Crop Advisory website.

Two of the insects that are being monitored by the Virginia Cooperative Extension are the brown marmorated stink bug and the corn earworm moth. The moth is especially dangerous to farmers because their caterpillars consume plants and pose a danger to multiple crops.

“The corn earworm moths will lay eggs and turn into caterpillars. We’re tracking their movement from corn to other crops,” Brown said. The moths are also dangerous to cotton, as the caterpillars feed on the cotton bolls.

“Another name for it is actually the cotton bollworm,” he said.

The brown marmorated stink bug, Brown said, is an invasive pest that is new to the area. They are paying particular attention to it because of its novelty in the region, he said.

Brown and others set up blacklight pest traps in areas around the region in order to form a rough estimate on the number of particular pests in the area. They use the information to track the movement and reproduction of these pests, Brown said.

Blacklight traps attract insects with their lights before trapping them in a bucket-shaped object. Experts then check the buckets to keep tabs on the pests.

So far, Brown’s trap is yet to catch a corn earworm moth, but will usually catch about one stink bug per night. His trap is located a few miles from his office and is used as a guide for Southampton County.

Though the traps present a fairly accurate estimate of the pests in an area, Brown recommends that farmers scout their own fields in order to see exactly which pests to worry about.

“We’re trying to get a snapshot of the area,” Brown said.

Updates on pest presence in the area can be found on the Virginia Ag Pest and Crop Advisory website, where Sean Malone posts updates of pest findings every Thursday. Brown updates the Southampton County of Virginia Cooperative Extension weekly with updates about pest-related findings.