Dog being trained to spot infected trees
The insect has destroyed hundreds of thousands of trees in Michigan, Ohio and Ontario.
TOLEDO -- Meet Bella.
She's on a different career path than other Labrador retrievers who have joined German shepherds, bloodhounds, border collies, golden retrievers, and other dog breeds in helping law enforcement or mankind.
Her "collie-eagues" have been custom-trained to use their noses to search for drugs, bombs, fugitives and the bodies of those who have met with foul play or disaster.
Bella is a candidate to become the nation's first dog used to sniff out the frass, or sawdustlike excrement, of emerald ash borer larvae.
The bright green insect, which is believed to have entered the country aboard wood crating shipped from Asia to the Port of Detroit, has destroyed hundreds of thousands of ash trees in Michigan, Ohio and Ontario.
In hindsight, officials now think that better detection could have spared thousands of Ohio ash trees.
"It was clearly already present in those sites," said Dan Herms, an Ohio State University entomologist. He is the state's lone representative on an international science advisory panel and directs much of its ash borer research.
Enter Bella and her trainer, Gary Broberg, who approached Herms about training the dog to detect the ash borer. Herms said he did some Internet research and found scientific papers about how dogs have been used to detect termites and other wood-boring pests, so he agreed to give it a try.
"It's certainly not going to be a silver bullet," he said. "It could be another tool in the toolbox."
Bella's first two trial runs yielded mixed results, but enough positives to take the research to the next level.
Herms has assigned one of his OSU graduate students, Ashley Font, to work with Broberg during the next two years as part of her research for a master's degree in entomology.
During a trial run last month at Oak Openings Preserve Metropark near Swanton, Ohio, Bella was fairly decisive and reasonably accurate, though not perfect. She did better in finding infested logs outside than she did finding larvae and frass when it was encased in petri dishes and spread out in the controlled setting of an enclosed garage.
At one point, Bella got five of six logs correct. On another test, she correctly identified four of six. During an earlier trial in Bowling Green she had a perfect score on the firewood tests.
"The data is promising enough to continue," Herms said. He said he hopes a day comes when Bella or another dog "could detect an infested tree within a matter of seconds."
Since it was first identified in southeastern Michigan in 2002, a consortium of forestry, agriculture, and bug experts have been confounded by the elusive insect.
Attempts to halt the borer's spread in the Toledo area through massive cut-and-burn efforts around identified infestations have failed, and the bug has spread farther east and south in Ohio and westward into Indiana and Illinois.