Sterile insect technique for fruit fly control

Page last updated: Thursday, 6 September 2018 - 1:48pm

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Sterile insect technique is a biological control method that helps reduce broad-spectrum chemical treatments.

It is used with other techniques such as protein baiting and orchard hygiene to create fruit fly-free areas, or areas of low pest prevalence. It is an area-wide technique and must be applied over large areas, to be effective.

SIT is environmentally friendly, making it very acceptable to export markets which increasingly focus on ecologically compatible, sustainable production techniques which reduce or eliminate pesticide residues.

History of sterile insect technique

The sterile insect technique, commonly known as SIT, was initiated in the 1930s. Its first successful use was to control screwworm fly, a devastating cattle pest, on the island of Curacao in 1953. Subsequently it was used to eradicate screwworm from the USA and Mexico.

Since then SIT has been further developed to suppress more than 20 insects including fruit flies and other key agricultural pests.

Sterile insect technique for Queensland fruit fly was first trialled in New South Wales from 1962 to 1965.

The first use of sterile insect technique in Western Australia was against Mediterranean fruit fly (Medfly) in Carnarvon in 1978. Sterile insects combined with baiting successfully eradicated Medfly from the Carnarvon area by 1984. Unfortunately, lack of quarantine barriers meant it soon re-invaded.

In 1989 a special factory was built to produce sterile Queensland fruit flies to fight a large outbreak in Perth. This was successful and by 1991 Queensland fruit fly had been eradicated from Western Australia.

From 2001 to 2013 the same factory was used to rear sterile Mediterranean fruit fies under contract to South Australia. When not used to fight outbreaks in that state, the sterile flies were used for research in WA.

For many years a sterile insect release program combined with protein baiting was used successfully to manage fruit flies at Katanning. Sterile pupae were shipped to Katanning where they emerged and were released by staff from the Shire of Katanning.

Sterile Medfly bred in Western Australia have been used to eradicate eight fruit fly outbreaks in South Australia since 2001. In some countries, sterile fruit flies are released continually to prevent establishment of wild flies.

Contact information

Pest and Disease Information Service (PaDIS)
+61 (0)8 9368 3080