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Dog detectives: Researchers training local canines to sniff out spotted lanternflies

Dog detectives: Researchers training local canines to sniff out spotted lanternflies

BLACKSBURG—Virginia Tech researchers are recruiting dogs and their owners to help stop the spread of the destructive spotted lanternfly.

Dogs are known for their incredible noses. With their scent work already used to detect narcotics, explosives and even illnesses, it’s not a stretch to apply the same principals to agriculture.

That’s what researchers in Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences have been working on the past couple years. Using a $475,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the university has partnered with researchers at Texas Tech University’s Canine Olfaction Research and Education Laboratory to train dogs to sniff out spotted lanternflies.

“We’re hoping that dogs will allow us to identify early infestations before they really take root,” said Erica Feuerbacher, assistant professor and director of the Virginia Tech Applied Animal Behavior and Welfare Lab. “Being able to eradicate the insects when they first arrive in a plot of land will allow producers to remove them without the use of pesticides, while still protecting their crops.”

Spotted lanternflies pose a significant threat to the state’s wine industry, fruit orchards and other sectors as they target apples, grapes, stone fruits, hops and ornamental plants. Several localities in Virginia are under quarantine to help slow the pests’ spread.

Having successfully trained dogs to detect lanternflies in a controlled laboratory setting, Feuerbacher is excited to see how they do out in the field, in busier, more distracting environments. Currently in the early “citizen science phase” of the project, she and the research team are recruiting dogs and their owners to participate in the training.

In Berryville, James Bogaty of Bogaty Family Wine Group, owns three wineries and is familiar with the challenge spotted lanternflies pose for farmers like himself. He said he’s encouraged by the new research to better detect them—especially their egg masses, which can be hard to spot because they resemble pieces of mud and easily escape human eyes.

“The dogs' keen sense of smell enables them to identify the scent of the eggs, even when they’re hidden or camouflaged on various surfaces,” said Bogaty, a Clarke County Farm Bureau member. “Dogs can accurately pinpoint the location of the egg masses, ensuring that no eggs are missed during removal.”

He added that it could be a sustainable, cost-effective solution to providing pest control without requiring chemicals or specialized equipment.

Like many farmers, Bogaty has his own dog, Aruba. The idea of training his canine companion to help protect his vines is appealing.

“While the training process can be time-consuming and require a dedicated effort, the potential benefits make it an appealing option,” he noted. “With the guidance of experts in the field, we could embark on the journey of training our dog to play an essential role in protecting our vineyard from spotted lanternflies.”

If you’re interested in registering your dog to sniff out spotted lanterflies, visit for more information.

Media: Contact Feuerbacher at 540-231-1393.