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Tiny wasps offer defense against invasive flies in Maine

The spotted wing drosophila has already damaged more than a billion dollars worth of crops across the country.

ORONO, Maine — Here in Maine, we love our berries. Especially our blueberries. But an invasive pest is posing a threat to the valuable crop and others like it throughout the state. 

The spotted wing drosophila (SWD) is native to Asia and was first found in North America in 2008. The pest infests healthy, soft-skin berries with its eggs and larvae, which feed on the fruit and damage it before farmers have a chance to sell it. Nationwide, SWD has destroyed an estimated $1.2 billion in crops. 

To reduce the fly's presence in Maine, Phillip Fanning, assistant professor of agricultural entomology at University of Maine and his team have found a natural solution. 

The samba wasps parasitize SWD in Asia. The wasp has no stinger and is about the size of a grain of rice. Recently, Fanning said they released more than 8,000 samba wasps at blueberry fields in Hancock, Knox, Waldo, and Washington counties for the first time.

Spotted wing drosophila (SWD)

“Next year, we hope to rear even more and then we will be releasing them out into sites in southern Maine and in different crops," Fanning explained.   

According to Fanning, the Samba wasp lays its eggs inside SWD larvae. When the wasp larvae hatch, they consume their host, breaking the invasive insects life cycle. 

"It took many years of research and permitting to get this project where it is now," Fanning told NEWS CENTER Maine. "That research involved making sure this wasp only attacks spotted wing drosophila, which means it's a really safe option to use to control it."

This project has received millions of dollars in funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, The Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine, as well as Cornell and Rutgers universities. 

Credit: Kent Daane
Samba Wasp

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