Fly numbers drop thanks to work of scientists

WORKSHOPS: Phil Kemsley.
WORKSHOPS: Phil Kemsley.

I HAVE a confession. I have an addiction. As I write this I am enjoying my second coffee for the day. To make the coffee experience complete is to relax outdoors at one of the many coffee shops with which we are blessed on our beautiful North Coast.

Alfresco dining is part of our lives. However three decades ago the scene was different. To eat outside meant doing battle with an enemy. The bush fly. Waving a hand in front of the face became firmly entrenched in our Aussie culture. The "Barcoo salute" was one of the many names given for our often futile attempts to keep flies out of our eyes and mouths.

We owe the dramatic (but not complete) drop in bush fly numbers to a small group of Australian scientists. This peculiar fraternity, whose passion in life is insects, are known as entomologists. Over the past four decades they have been responsible for introducing dung beetles. We already had several hundred types of native beetles, however their taste was for the droppings of our native animals. The introduced beetles were selected for their habit of eating sheep and cattle dung.

I have had the pleasure of spending several days with Dr Bernard Doube conducting a series of workshops on dung beetles and buffalo fly control. Bernard is a former CSIRO principal research scientist and his life work and passion is insects, in particular dung beetles and buffalo fly.

The field days highlighted the need to use buffalo fly chemicals wisely and to explore non-chemical means of control. Unfortunately the control of buffalo fly by dung beetles has not been as successful as it has with the bush fly. There are differences in their life cycles. We also need dung beetles that are better adapted to the tropics and are summer active. This is Bernard's current mission; to search the planet for just the right beetles to do the job.

Until then, as cattle producers we need to become wiser to employ strategies to delay resistance.

The days of reliance on chemical control are limited. There is also increasing consumer demand for products grown without the use of chemicals.

Dung beetles also have a huge role to play in restructuring and improving the fertility of our ancient soils. Also by deep burying dung they are incorporating carbon into the soil. I raise my hat to the humble dung beetle and to scientists like Bernard who work with them. They are indeed the quiet achievers.

Topics:  environment flies soil health

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