Plant Industry to add two furry friends

By on October 14, 2021

Man’s best friend will soon have a brand-new job in North Carolina — hunting down invasive bugs.

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service’s Plant Industry division will soon welcome a pair of working dogs named Kita and Neeko to the state to help detect Spotted Lanternfly. The destructive pest, which causes severe damage to trees and vineyards, is a serious problem in 10 northern states and is spreading quickly.

Just this week, live adult Spotted Lanternfly insects were found 15 miles from the North Carolina border and the division’s regulatory entomologists believe it is likely already in the state, so the canine teams are coming to the state at a critical time to help find and treat infestations early and prevent establishment.

Jackie Fredieu and Chad Taylor are the pair of plant protection specialists who will take on the role of handlers for the new dogs. Fredieu said that the dogs will help sniff out SLF in places where people would likely miss them.

“Spotted Lanternfly can lay eggs basically anywhere. They like flat surfaces, and they often nest in weird places like patio furniture and under cars,” she said. “They leave behind egg masses in a lot of interesting places that we can’t see with our eyes sometimes. Having something like this, where the dog can sniff out an egg mass that someone may have on their vehicle after coming out of a spotted lanternfly infested area and not realize it, is a really great asset for us.”

Spotted lanternfly does not have a known established breeding population in North Carolina. This is obviously good news, but it also means that the Plant Industry Division is focused on detection and prevention. The dogs will be a powerful new addition to that strategy.

“It’s mainly for when we get a citizen report of spotted lanternfly in North Carolina. If someone says ‘hey, I found spotted lanternfly’ then we’re going to send a dog out there with a team to go investigate the area and make sure that there aren’t any more,” Fredieu said. “At the same time though, we will also bring them along on our daily work to have them look for spotted lanternfly eggs at businesses and high-risk areas across the state. Chad does a lot of nursery inspections, so he’ll bring the dog along on those, and I’ll bring mine along with me while I’m doing my survey work.”

Taylor works with his dog, Neeko, in a spotted lanternfly detection drill

Getting both dogs and handlers ready to work together is no simple feat. Fredieu and Taylor are still in the middle of an eight-week training course designed to get them comfortable with directing the dogs and responding to their signals.

Taylor said he had been interested in working dogs for a while, so when the opportunity came up he jumped on it. With most of the training program left to go, he said that he was looking forward to putting them through their paces in an area with a real SLF infestation.

Taylor and Neeko

“Our first four weeks have been down here in Georgia at a training facility, and we’ve just been getting used to the dogs, making sure the dogs are used to the scent and all of that. This last week in Georgia is just going to be repetition, because that’s how they learn,” he said. “After that we’ll go to Virginia, and I’m really looking forward to that because there are actual populations of the Spotted Lanternfly up there in Winchester where we’re going. Right now we’re using dead egg masses and hiding them in places, but up there we’ll be out in nature. It’ll be interesting to me to see how it’s different to what we’ve done down in Georgia.”

Taylor said that he hopes the dogs will help catch SLF populations before they’re established.

“My hope is that this will help us find those populations before they get out of hand,” he said. “Maybe you’re able to find that egg mass that would have started it all thanks to the dog and destroy it.”

Kita and Neeko are slated to arrive in North Carolina mid-November and will be ready to get to work immediately. Plant Industry believes these teams will further bolster the state’s response to Spotted Lanternfly and potentially even other pests in the future. For more information on Spotted Lanternfly and invasive species, visit https://www.ncagr.gov/plantindustry/Plant/entomology/SLF.htm

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