In a fight against an invasive species, there's new hope that man's best friends will do their part.
A team of veterinarians is enlisting dogs to track down eggs laid by the spotted lanternfly, as officials continue to advise humans to squash or smash the pests whenever they see them. The lanternfly has been seen in parts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware and threatens trees, hops, grapes and other crops.
A group at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine had success when teaching dogs to sniff out clusters of lanternfly eggs before they hatch, the school announced in a news release.
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Typically, the clusters of lanternfly eggs are in hard-to-find spots that might not be detected by humans before the eggs hatch and overrun an area. Once established, the flies can cause trees to rot, and excrete a sugary substance that is toxic to plants and encourages mold growth.
But in the Penn study, dogs - with a sense of smell at least 10,000 times stronger than humans' - had success detecting the lanternfly eggs out in the world.
Training began in December 2019, when dogs were presented with samples of dead eggs and tree bark. Tests showed the dogs could separate the scent of the eggs from the scent of the bark.
Next, the dogs were tasked with finding lanternfly eggs out in the world, tucked away under cars, pieces of wood and other objects. The study showed the dogs could correctly identify the lanternfly egg masses.
With the study showing one way to detect the flies' eggs, it gives a chance for humans to destroy them before they hatch.
The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, which funded the study, will soon reap the rewards of its investment. The department plans to "hire" its first Spotted Lanternfly Scent Detection Dog - Lucky, an 18-month-old German Shepherd trained at Penn.