New pest control: mites sniff “death,” go into debilitating hibernation
Martijn Egas and colleagues at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands noticed that when the mites encountered predators, they went into hiding and entered a dormant state called diapause, normally used during long periods of cold, drought or famine.
Curious about whether this discovery could be used against the crop-destroying mites, the team put them inside parallel wind tunnels that were infused with air from chambers containing other spider mites that were either peacefully munching on bean leaves, or suffering attacks from a different, predatory mite species.
They found that mites exposed to air from the predation chamber were 15 per cent more likely to enter diapause than mites in the control chamber, suggesting that the mere scent of an attack can send them into the hibernation-like state.
The team is hopeful that their finding will lead to an effective pest control. Upon entering the diapause state, mites can't "dehibernate" for several weeks, remaining in the debiliating dormant state. Releasing predator odours during the time of year when young crops are most vulnerable may help save harvests and manage global food crisis.