Mating Disruption, Pheromones, and Paranoia

Yesterday, I posted a new episode in the “Ask an Entomologist” series. My regular readers (we’re up to 8!) were probably thinking “Gosh, why is Bug-girl writing this long post? Isn’t she hugely overworked at her new job?”

The answer is yes, I am very stretched right now. (Urk!)
I finished that post on pheromones (it had been a draft since last fall) because something silly annoyed me very, very much. I wrote that post to provide the background to the smack I’m about to deliver today.

What motivated me? There is a huge outcry in California…because they are planning to spray pheromones for light brown apple moth (LBAM).

Several urban regions in California will try mating disruption, which, as I explained yesterday, is a quite environmentally benign process. The linked article is incredibly alarmist:

“Officials claim no “adverse” effects are expected when aerial dissipation of vast quantities of CheckMate OLR-F and LBAM-F will be sprayed over the Bay Area beginning as early as June. Tell that to hundreds of residents of Santa Cruz and Monterey counties who have reported health problems from last years coating.”

Errr..what? Pheromones are about as safe as you can get! They are naturally occurring compounds that are used in insect sexual communication. Most consider them a type of biological control.

As I explained yesterday, insect sex pheromones are used in tiny amounts (0.0001 microlitres still gets a rise out of my males). The application rate for CheckMate is 0.65 fluid ounces per acre. I’ll say that again:
Less. Than. One. Ounce. Per. Acre.

So, rather than using broad-spectrum pesticides, the state is using unique natural compounds specific to two pest species. And this is grounds for a petition and multiple protest sites? Their reaction can be best summarized as “OMG there are chemicals!!”

Interestingly, the very same blogger that sounds the alarm above, 6 months earlier, detailed the threat to California agriculture:

“The state’s agriculture industry faces $100′s of millions in losses if this interloper gets a more serious foothold in the agricultural zones of the Central Valley, and already nursery stock & cut flowers from 8 Bay Area & Northern California counties are quarantined and not allowed to ship interstate. “

What will be the consequence if this spray is halted? As mentioned in the quote above, LBAM, an introduced species, could become permanently established in California, and cause a lot of people to loose a lot of money. And then REAL pesticides will be used, in considerably larger quantities than this pheromone spray.

Have we really progressed to a point where any chemical use at all is suspect? I’m afraid so: Dihydrogen oxide is a good example. I’m sure it’s totally a coincidence that it was also in California that a county almost banned this compound in 2004:

“The city councillors of Aliso Viejo in Orange County, California, are well-meaning, socially responsible people. And when they came across the huge threat posed to their constituents by dihydrogen monoxide they did what any elected official should do: they took steps to protect their community. A motion due to go before the city legislature proposed banning the potentially deadly substance from within the city boundaries.”

This backlash to pheromone use reminds me very much of individuals refusing to be vaccinated for selfish (and unfounded) reasons, and harming a larger group.

California is a very, very strange place. I will now resort to the stereotypical Midwestern comment: