Security was tight on the U.S.-Canada border for the passengers in the backseat of the gray Mitsubishi Montero. Uniformed agents pored over their paperwork and opened the minifridge to count the Petri dishes in which the codling moths rode: These moths were travelling internationally and packing some high-level clearances.
“They’re sterilized insects,” said Nathan Moses-Gonzales, an executive partner with the Phoenix-based technology company, M3 Consulting Group, with a laugh. “We know they’re not going to cause any damages or anything, but it’s just the nature of the beast.”
Each week throughout the 2018 apple growing season, Moses-Gonzales and his colleagues drove across the border near Oroville, Washington, to pick up a load of sterilized codling moths from an Osoyoos, British Columbia, rearing facility and haul them back across the border to Washington orchards, in the name of entomology research.
They will add commercial releases this year, using unmanned aircraft to rain down irradiated moths as a way to control the population of their wild cousins. Meanwhile, researchers continue to test the practicality of implementing an entrenched Canadian form of pest control in an American economic environment.
“It’s taking an old technology and turning it around and thinking about it in an entirely new way,” said Betsy Beers, a Washington State University entomologist and principal investigator of one of two research projects involving the use of sterilized codling moths in America.