Keeping moths away from cotton is typically seen as a good thing. But the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has other ideas. In a pilot program, they’re using drones to drop thousands of lab-grown pink bollworm moths directly onto the cotton fields.
Drones are a cheaper delivery method than the manual throw-moths-out-of-a-small airplane method that has been used in the past, so if the tests continue to go well, you might be seeing more moths flying out of drones in the future.
But why bomb cotton fields with moths? Pink bollworms are a notorious cotton pest. Once they start eating their way through the seeds and fibers, they reduce the quality of the cotton dramatically. So the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service came up with a plan. If they raised pink bollworms in a lab, dyed them red to make them identifiable, and then irradiated them to make them sterile they’d have a population that could safely be released into cotton fields. The idea is that if the wild pink bollworms mate with the sterile pink bollworm moths, instead of each other, the sterile moths won’t be able to reproduce, effectively stopping an infestation in its tracks.
This isn’t the first time people have tried throwing animals out of planes to get rid of pests. In Guam, dead mice laced with acetaminophen are dropped out of helicopters in an attempt to get rid of the highly invasive brown tree snake.
The USDA’s full video about the moth drop is here: