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02.21.2006

Vineyard Protection Goes Low Tech

Seems like owning a a vineyard and having a dog (or three) pretty much go hand in hand for most parts of the world. It's so common in certain places like Australia that there are calendars and even books dedicated to canine cellar companions. Well it turns out that in addition to providing companionship along the frequent walks up and down the rows of vines, they might actually even help keep vineyards healthy.

A new program in Northern California is using young Golden Retrievers to sniff out an increasingly common and problematic vineyard pest: the vine mealybug. This little maggot-like critter gets into the base of a vine and starts gnawing away and depositing a sweet sticky substance that encourages mold and rot. In addition to eating the vine, these mealybugs also have sidekicks: symbiotic ants that eat the sweet stuff and fend off predators. A fully infected vine produces rotten fruit in the worst cases, and sometimes needs to be pulled out if the problem persists.

Enter the sharp noses of the vineyard dogs. As part of this experimental program these dogs are being taught to sniff out the pheromones of these bugs and, well, I guess bark at them until they have your attention. Apparently early detection is the key to dealing with this pest and so these dogs are serving the same function as they do in airports and bomb squads around the world.

Much better than high doses of pesticide no matter which way you look at it. Read the full story here.

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