A pair of Australian Shepherds are helping to stop the spread of invasive species in Indiana. Que is a 10-year-old Australian Shepherd. Along with his 5-year-old brother, Epic, he’s learning how to identify the spotted lanternfly. The pests are harmful to native plants and trees, and are capable of destroying vineyards. They’ve been ravaging the state since 2021.
Australian Shepherds learn to identify invasive species
Kallie Bontrager, a nursery inspector at the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR), is training the canine siblings to detect the insects, which emit an odor imperceptible to humans. She trains and shows dogs as a hobby, but was able to convince the DNR to try this new approach to combating the pests. She offered up her own dogs as her first trainees.
“Now my dogs get to go to work with me all the time,” Bontrager told the IndyStar.
Training takes place almost every day. The dogs sniff scented plastic tubes that contain live egg masses. Then, they receive treats. By pairing the scent with edible rewards, the pups are more likely to locate the insects in a field.
Pups protecting wildlife, one sniff at a time
When it’s time to work, Bontrager puts the dogs in harnesses, then instructs them to “find the bugs.”
It only takes a minute for the canines to identify the odor. They notify Bontrager with a yip and paw at the scent.
“Like any time you’re training a dog you have to reinforce and keep training them,” Vince Burkle, another nursery inspector on the project, told the IndyStar. “They’ve been very successful.”
When a dog finds an egg mass, the DNR documents the location. Then, a survey is conducted to determine how pervasive the infestation is. Finally, the eggs are destroyed.
More than 16,000 egg masses have been eliminated so far.
“That’s 670,000 eggs we feel like we have eliminated,” Burkle said. “It sounds like a lot, but there is quite a bit more work to do there.”
For these two incredible Australian Shepherds, it’s all in a day’s work.
Curious about collaborations between canines and nature lovers? Read more about how conservation dogs help protect the Earth!