How This Novel Device Can Disrupt Mating of Fruit Pests

How This Novel Device Can Disrupt Mating of Fruit Pests

The Tangler mating disruption deployed in a tree. (Photo: Chandra Bunker)

When it comes to describing the process of applying mating disruption, the word fun may not necessarily come to mind. But, that’s exactly how the inventors of a novel mating disruption device describe the process.

“The intriguing part is it is fun to put on, especially if you use the [applicator],” Brett Bunker says of his invention called the Tangler. “We want growers to be able to either throw or shoot and forget them.”

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While mating disruption is a vital part of the orchard process, application of disruption products are not necessarily a streamlined or efficient process. Which is exactly what inspired Bunker to come up with his idea in the first place.

Brett’s wife, Chandra Maleckas-Bunker, a fruit entomology consultant in Kent City MI, explained some of the nuances of mating disruption application. She told him that at the time, mating disruption products were difficult put on and labor intensive. She suggested if Brett could come up with a way to speed up application, that would help fruit growers by saving them time and money.

“Oh yeah, I have an idea,” says Brett, who worked in the commercial construction industry before joining his wife’s consulting business.

He made what he calls a “glorified candle,” which had a mold for the wax and a string in the middle as a bolas-style device. Bolas have weights at one end, interconnected by a cord, and are thrown to entangle animals by the legs. They were used by gauchos in South America. The Tangler boasts a cotton string, which helps prevent girdling of the trees.

“It flew through the air and tangled up in the branches,” Brett says of the prototype. “We did some searching and, lo and behold, we found there wasn’t anything exactly like this.”

The Bunkers now have four U.S. patents on elements of the Tangler and have more U.S. and international patents pending.

Recommended Rates
The Tangler is labeled for codling moth mating disruption, but the Bunkers say there are more mating disruption products they hope to release.

As for their current mating disruption product, the Bunkers suggest growers monitor degree days of insect development and apply mating disruption about a week before anticipated flight.

“Just in case you get an early flight of the moths,” Brett says.

While application rates vary depending upon previous pest pressure, Chandra says the most important thing to understand is: “The more points of disruption the better.”

“If they’re a first-time disruption person, I say a 400 rate per acre. That’s pretty standard because you don’t know about the existing population, especially if they’re having crop damage and they’re having trouble controlling it,” she says. “If they’ve been in disruption for a while, the lowest rate we’ll recommend is 250 per acre, and that’s orchards with low pressure.”

Using a recommended rate of 300 Tanglers per acre, the cost is $90 per acre or, going on the low end, it’s $75 for 250 per acre. The Bunkers are proud to say the Tangler is made in the U.S. and assembled in Michigan. They say this accounts for a little higher product cost, which the growers can recoup in labor savings.

Brett Bunker shoots some Tangler mating disruption devices into a tree using the launcher he’s developed. He expects the launcher to be available for purchase next year. (Photo: Chandra Bunker)

Application Speed
It’s no secret that application can be a tedious process. But, that’s where the Bunkers say they’ve got a leg up. The strong point of the Tangler is the speed of application, they explain. Growers can pull them apart and throw them up in the trees by hand or shoot them by launcher.

“It’s roughly twice as fast but that’s if you hand apply; it’s even faster if you’re applying it with the launcher,” Chandra says.

Growers also can use some sort of platform or trailer to drive people through the orchard and deploy the mating disruption.

“You can just pull them apart and throw them in the top upper third of the tree, and you’re good to go,” Brett says. “After you get a couple of acres under your belt, you end up being a lot faster.”

And the Bunkers are working on an application gun, or launcher with compressed air, which really speeds up the process, they say.

“You’re 75% faster with the launcher,” Chandra says.

And Brett says paring the launcher with certain growing systems may be more effective. “If you have a large fruiting wall, the launcher might be the best way to go,” he says.

Multi-Pronged Approach
What makes the Tangler interesting is the ability to combine many different types of pheromones into one device.

“We can put a lot of insect controls into one Tangler,” Brett says. “With the size of our product, we are able to integrate more than one insect.”

He says he and his wife are working on chemistries for five leafrollers, Oriental fruit moth, and others. They see the possibilities as endless.

“Keep in mind, we’re not a huge chemical corporation. It’s just my wife and me and several employees who have been working together to develop this product,” he says. “This has basically been a self-funded project.”

The Bunkers secured a USDA Small Business Innovation Research Program grant funding their research on leafroller mating disruption.

Brett says he and his wife are also looking into how their mating disruption device could be integrated into controls for invasive species and other insects.“Right now, we have a product for mating disruption, but we could use the Tangler system for attract and kill or attract and trapping controls. We have a lot of different ideas that we’d love to be able to implement into the product, but it just takes time and that all important thing — money,” he says.

Next Steps
While the Tangler’s mating disruption active ingredients are registered federally, the product is currently only available for sale in Michigan and Wisconsin. The Bunkers say they’re looking to add additional states; however, they acknowledge that the path to having their products registered in each individual state can be costly and time consuming, especially for a small business such as their own.

The Bunkers are also working on commercializing the launcher as well. For now, they’re inviting growers to try them out.

“Once we get it developed to the point where we feel confident, and we’re happy with the product, we’ll start selling them,” Brett says.

He says next year they’ll probably start selling the launcher officially, and they’re hoping to price it at around $500.

“You’ll pay yourself back halfway through your first orchard or your first year, easily,” he says.

“We can put a lot of insect controls into one Tangler,” Brett Bunker says. “With the size of our product, we are able to integrate more than one insect.”

He says he and his wife are working on chemistries for five leafrollers, Oriental fruit moth, and others. They see the possibilities as endless.

“Keep in mind, we’re not a huge chemical corporation. It’s just my wife and me and several employees who have been working together to develop this product,” he says. “This has basically been a self-funded project.”

The Bunkers secured a USDA Small Business Innovation Research Program grant funding their research on leafroller mating disruption. Brett Bunker says he and his wife are also looking into how their mating disruption device could be integrated into controls for invasive species and other insects.“Right now, we have a product for mating disruption, but we could use the Tangler system for attract and kill or attract and trapping controls. We have a lot of different ideas that we’d love to be able to implement into the product, but it just takes time and that all important thing — money,” he says.

Next Steps
While the Tangler’s mating disruption active ingredients are registered federally, the product is currently only available for sale in Michigan and Wisconsin. The Bunkers say they’re looking to add additional states; however, they acknowledge that the path to having their products registered in each individual state can be costly and time-consuming, especially for a small business such as their own.

The Bunkers are also working on commercializing the launcher as well. For now, they’re inviting growers to try them out.

“Once we get it developed to the point where we feel confident, and we’re happy with the product, we’ll start selling them,” Brett says.

He says next year they’ll probably start selling the launcher officially, and they’re hoping to price it around $500.

“You’ll pay yourself back halfway through your first orchard or your first year, easily,” he says.