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Stamp out those stinkin' fruit pests!

From drones to detective kits, Waiariki (Bay of Plenty) students have been learning how to battle the bugs threatening our kiwifruit and avocados.

Students being shown a pest insect

Stink bugs are one of the biggest and trickiest threats to Aotearoa New Zealand’s fruit industry, with thousands of the critters being caught arriving into our country each year.

This means it’s critical that all New Zealanders work together to keep them out and stamp them out – and that's where Creepy Crawlies meets Primary Production comes in.

Led by Steve Pawson at Scion, this project has enabled hundreds of primary school students to explore pest management and biosecurity in a truly interactive way, while fostering greater connectivity between schools, scientists and local businesses in the fruit industry.

“The students received hands-on House of Science pest management and biosecurity learning kits, which they worked through in their classrooms, followed by a visit from Scion scientists,” Steve says.

Students with drones

Kaitao Intermediate kaiako (teacher) Taki Roberts says Creepy Crawlies has really caught the interest of her tauira (students).

“The House of Science kits are just fantastic – they really engaged the kids. Once they were talking about it, their understanding of science just grew and grew.

“The second stage – when scientists visited the school – was absolutely brilliant. The kids learned how to identify trees and how diseases can affect them, and also what pests are bad for the environment. They’re much more conscious of pest bugs now.”

Stink bug on kiwifruit. Credit: Mike Lewis, UC Riverside via KVH

The project then finished with a major highlight for everyone – a field trip to Trevelyan’s Pack and Cool in Te Puke for Kaitao Intermediate, Te Rangihakahaka, Rotorua Intermediate and Kaingaroa Forest School.

At Trevelyans, the students did activities designed to teach them about the science behind protecting New Zealand’s primary industries such as kiwifruit production.

Aleise Puketapu, entomologist (insect scientist) at Plant & Food Research, says the potential arrival of stink bugs in New Zealand could do major damage to our most iconic fruit.

“In Italy, they’re losing 30% of their kiwifruit crops due to the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug. So we really don’t want it here.”

Stink bugs are so-named because they create a pungent odour that smells like coriander to defend themselves against predators.

Students using guides to find stink bugs in the orchard

As well as becoming ‘certified Stink Bug finders’ by searching for fake Stink Bugs in a kiwifruit orchard, the students explored using drones to spray orchards and protect them from bugs, weed and disease.

The tauira and kaiako also toured a pack-house to see how avocados, another fruit threatened by stink bugs, are inspected and graded.

“Bringing them out to a working pack-house and cool-store means they get to see how the science actually applies in real life,” Steve says.

“The trip also helped raise awareness of career options in the fruit industry, including scientific roles, and I hope these students will be inspired to consider being scientist that support New Zealand’s fruit growing industry.”

Students at the avocado pack-house

Taki says that the project has helped her tauira think about science differently.

“For our kids, anything to do with the environment is great for them and we’ve really loved learning through science. They’ve also learned that science isn’t just about the environment – it’s so broad and relates to pretty much everything, including how they prepare food and when they are playing.”

About the project

Scion logoHouse of science logoCreepy Crawlies meets Primary Production is run by Scion in partnership with House of Science, with support from the Unlocking Curious Minds contestable fund, the Biological Heritage Challenge, HorticultureNZ, Kiwifruit Vine Health, Zespri, Heli-Resources and Trevelyans.

Photos supplied by Scion, the Biological Heritage Challenge and Kiwifruit Vine Health (stink bug on kiwifruit - courtesy of Mike Lewis UC Riverside). Source story supplied by the Biological Heritage Challenge.

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Unlocking Curious Minds

Unlocking Curious Minds supports projects that excite and engage New Zealanders who have fewer opportunities to experience and connect with science and technology.

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