Dogs Detect Pheromone

By Pat Kelley

A unique and exciting project is going on in Sweden right now tha involves using dogs’ noses to locate sources of insect pheromone. Dogs trained by the small company
SnifferDogs Sweden are able to determine which trees in large forested areas are infested with damaging bark beetles that are decimating the spruce trees in Sweden. The promising results of this study were presented at the national Entomological Society of America meeting in Knoxville, TN in November 2012 by Fredrik Schlyter of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

Spruce bark beetles (Ips typographus) populations in Sweden have grown larger in Sweden since 2005 due to higher than average temperatures and the thousands of trees felled from severe wind storms in recent years. The beetles will attack living trees and taint
the wood for harvest by staining it with a blue fungus. As an initial means of inspection, foresters are proposed to walk through their forested area inspecting each and every tree. This work is extremely time consuming and expensive. As an alternative, dogs are trained to identify and locate four different compounds of the aggregation pheromone scent of the bark beetle. The dogs are initially trained to recognize synthetic substances of the pheromone and are rewarded with food treats, playtime, and praise when they locate the pheromone from a wide variety of scents and smells.When field trained, these dogs are able to locate each individual tree that is infested and point it out to their trainer. The studies show that they do this much faster and more efficiently than their human  counterparts.

The dog trainers release the dogs at the edge of the forest and with the aid of a hand held GPS and a locator on the back of each dog, they can accurately mark the location of each tree. As the dogs sniff their way through the woods, they come upon trees that emit the beetle pheromone and they excitedly bark and scratch the tree until the trainer comes to reward them with a treat and praise as they mark the exact location of the tree on the GPS.

This allows the land owners to come in after the inspection to remove the infested trees, leaving the remainder of the trees healthy.

This behavioral response in dogs is not only exciting for the forestry industry, but it opens up a wide array of opportunities for other pest insect inspections as well. Imagine
a dog being able to locate a single cigarette beetle infestation by the sex pheromone in an entire warehouse of tobacco, or similarly, an elusive saw-toothed grain beetle population
that has plagued a food distribution center. Pest work by dogs is becoming more commonplace as dogs are used to search for termite nests and bedbug infestations from the odors these pests produce, but successfully isolating a sex pheromone for the dogs
to locate is worth howling about!

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