6 Nov 2015

NZ wasp bait wins innovation award

11:50 am on 6 November 2015

An award-winning New Zealand-designed wasp bait will be a game changer in the fight against the pests, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says.

A German wasp on a thistle flower (file photo)

A German wasp on a thistle flower (file photo) Photo: 123RF

Richard Toft of Nelson has won a Conservation Innovation Award from the WWF for his development of Vespex, a wasp bait that is expected to make a significant difference to the fight against the pests.

Mr Toft, an expert in wasp ecology, said the protein-based bait had been 25 years in the making. It contains a very potent, slow-acting insecticide which is unattractive to bees.

Wasps cause an estimated $120 million damage a year in disruption to bee pollination and lost honey production, Conservation Minister Maggie Barry said.

They also compete heavily for honeydew - a key food source for native birds such as kaka, tui and korimako (bellbirds).

Mr Toft said wasps carry the bait back to their nests and feed it to the larvae or the developing young.

"Then those larvae regurgitate it like a soup, which is a reward for the workers and also the queen will take that and the toxin itself is spread right around the colony."

Mr Toft said it was also spread by wasps making contact with each other and grooming within the nest.

"So it only takes relatively few trips from the bait station to the nest to have enough bait and toxin in there to wipe out the nest within a day or two."

He said stewardship restrictions required training to make sure the bait was being used properly.

"It will only be available for purchase to people who have been approved and have gone through training, and we're still working through the details of how that will be delivered."

The Department of Conservation trialled the bait over 5000 hectares at five South Island sites last summer.

Within a week of the first application, wasp activity was reduced by more than 95 percent.

WWF said Vespex was the only available tool for wide-area control of wasps and a "real game-changer" in the battle against both common and German wasps.

It would significantly reduce the $60 million worth of damage to the environment that invasive wasps cause every year.

The WWF said its grant of $25,000 would allow Mr Toft and his team to move on from making small amounts of bait for research to commercial production, and trial systems for use by community conservation groups.

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