Fighting pests with fungi: Using natural fungi to control lesser mealworm in Australian chicken sheds

30.11.20

New research supported by AgriFutures Australia is optimising the use of an alternative control measure for the lesser mealworm based on live fungi.

The lesser mealworm, also known as darkling beetle, is a common insect-pest to the chicken meat industry due to the damage it can cause to the structure of chicken sheds through tunnelling and its ability to carry pathogens. Lesser mealworms are often found in poultry production systems where deep litter and open floor housing provide optimal survival and reproductive conditions.

Following on from preliminary research that developed a proof-of-concept for non-toxic fungus-based pesticides (mycopesticides) to control lesser mealworm populations, new research is underway to optimise the use of mycopesticides for this purpose.

Leading the current research project is technical officer Steven Rice from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (Queensland). He said, “What we’re doing now is testing the mycopesticide under various conditions including different litter use practices and different floor types in meat chicken sheds.”

Mr Rice said, “We’re conducting field trials, currently at two farms in the Caboolture area, to compare the mycopesticide in full litter replacement and partial litter re-use systems.  We’re running the trials through the seasons so we can compare the fungi’s impact on the lesser mealworm populations in winter to what happens in the warmer months.”

“The initial results look promising. The mycopesticide appears to reduce lesser mealworm populations under both litter systems; but there’s more research to be done.”

Approved insecticides are currently used to control the lesser mealworm pest. However, insecticides potentially leave some residues in the litter and the lesser mealworm builds up resistance to them over time. An additional objective of this latest research project is to test the potential of using the mycopesticide in conjunction with insecticides to reduce overall chemical usage and maximise control of lesser mealworm populations.

Mr Rice said, “We’re doing preliminary laboratory trials to see whether the mycopesticide can work together with the insecticides currently approved for use to provide a better overall control effect.”

“We hope that the combined results of the field and laboratory work will attract a commercial partner that is interested in producing a mycopesticide that will be effective for use against lesser mealworm and have a low environmental impact.”

Annie Lane, Research Manager (AgriFutures Chicken Meat Program) said the development of an effective fungal-based control for the lesser mealworm has the potential to significantly benefit on the Australian chicken meat industry.

“With this research we have the chance to not only optimise a new natural control method for lesser mealworm but also increase sustainable practices in chicken meat production.”

Ms Lane said, “As consumers want more information about the provenance of their food it’s more important than ever to explore natural options for pest control and maintain the consumer confidence that makes chicken the number one consumed meat in Australia.”

Read more about this project and register to receive updates from the AgriFutures Chicken Meat Program at https://www.agrifutures.com.au/rural-industries/chicken-meat/