Bringing the Crazee Mite to the Canadian market
Channeling a native mite’s cannibalistic tendencies towards pest control is having delicious results.
March 22, 2022 By Kaitlin Packer
Commercializing any new biocontrol agent is not easy, especially when it’s a cannibalistic, predatory mite that likes to eat everything in its path. However, the researchers at Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (Vineland), along with their commercial partners at Applied Bio-nomics Ltd., decided to take on the challenge with Anystis baccarum – and now they’re seeing a load of potential for the Canadian market.
The inspiration for researching Anystis started when Taro Saito, senior research technician in biological control at Vineland, was playing in the backyard with his toddler in 2012. After his son found an Anystis mite catching a fly, he decided to bring some of the mites to work to see what research had been done on them. “I got really excited and [had to look into] what species this is,” Saito says.
Since Anystis is a naturally occurring species in Canada, Saito discovered that researchers had previously looked into the possibility of using it as a biocontrol agent in the 1960s. However, the mite’s cannibalistic tendencies proved to be a challenge for creating a cost-effective, mass-rearing system.
“They’ll just run around until they bump into something and they’ll bite into it and, if it’s edible, they’ll eat,” Saito says. They don’t discriminate between pests and friendly bugs. That’s why he nicknamed Anystis the Crazee Mite – because of its erratic behavior, a descriptive characterization in addition to what it’s previously been called: Whirligig Mite.
Meeting the challenges of mass production
To solve the cannibalism problem, Saito developed the cost-effective, mass-rearing standard operating procedure before eventually partnering with Applied Bio-nomics, where they established the rearing system, conducted grower trials, developed packaging and officially launched Anystis as a biocontrol agent in January 2022.
Dave Spencer, vice-president of sales and marketing at Applied Bio-nomics, says they were excited to partner with researchers. “Most of the groundwork was already done,” he adds. “So, it was really more of the practical applications like different crops, different environments, how they’re interacting with different biocontrol agents, all that.”
Potential crop and pest control with Anystis
Spencer’s team saw growers try Anystis in many different scenarios over the past year, from basement cannabis to commercial greenhouses and orchards. “People were happy with it right off the bat, so I don’t think it has limitations in terms of what we’re willing to try,” he says. Especially since Anystis is already found outside in many scenarios, the possibilities extend beyond greenhouses to field fruit and vegetables.
“It performs better than other predatory mite species that are commercially available,” Saito says. The advantages of Anystis are its size and speed. It is larger than many other biocontrol agents and it will eat a wide range of pests if it can overpower them, including aphids, thrips, whitefly and phytophagous mites. Even if using Anystis doesn’t result in predation, the mite still reduces pest feeding damages by running through patches of pests and causing them to panic, interrupting their feeding and egg laying.
However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will reduce the population down to the threshold for all of them in a cost-effective way. “Of course, you could put an unlimited amount [of Anystis] and it would knock down probably any pest, but it would be way cheaper for the growers to throw the plants out and get new ones,” Spencer says. While Anystis will reduce populations of a large range of pests, it’s particularly effective for controlling thrips and aphids with a quicker knock-down and less economic damage.
The compatibility of other biocontrol agents
Pairing Anystis with other biocontrol agents leads to even better results, which Saito saw through multiple trials he conducted in chrysanthemums and peppers. Because Anystis like to spread out, a combination is better in most cases unless they’re in a contained space. Spencer says he saw this with aphids, as well as with thrips. “The best thrips predation was a combination of Anystis and cucumeris,” he adds.
One of the reasons Anystis works well with other biocontrol agents is because it feeds on different stages of a shared pest and switches to other pests (if present) when the shared pest species declines. Anystis adults live about three weeks, which is much longer than many other biocontrol agents. “They’re incredible predators and super-fast,” Spencer adds. “So, I think it’s starting to look like that’s going to be our primary, if not the only, product we’re selling – the adults.”
Best management practices for application
Releasing Anystis as a preventative strategy is the most effective practice for controlling problematic pests. “Preventative really is the way to go because they can eat anything,” Saito says. “So, whatever comes into your crop, they’re there for you to defend your crop.”
Spencer says Applied Bio-nomics application recommendations are still in progress and may vary depending on a grower’s crop, environment and pest pressure. Because Anystis mites consume such a large number of pests, it may be effective to apply a smaller number of them preventatively and, as the season progresses, have them live out their lifecycle as a low-density predator. “If that is the case, that would be a lot more cost-effective to the growers,” Spencer says. If a grower is facing high pest pressure, however, it may be more effective to apply them in high density for a quicker knock-down.
Determining the most effective release strategy is still on the table for Anystis. Because Applied Bio-nomics now supplies them as adults, not eggs, they’re expected to act quickly since the adults travel fast. “It might be a matter of simply opening the bag in a central location and just letting them come out on their own or sprinkling the material where you want,” Spencer says. Assuming spiders may be a potential predator of Anystis, it’s probably best not to leave the bag out for long so as not to attract predators.
Worldwide potential for the cosmopolitan species
Besides the potential for pest control, Saito is excited about the possibilities Anystis brings as a cosmopolitan species, naturally occurring in countries such as Russia, China, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. “If the Canadian story is a success story, the potential market of this species is global,” he says.
The success of Anystis is already evident among Canadian growers who were eager to be involved with trials over the past year. In those trials, Spencer says he heard from growers who had immediate knock-down of aphids in peppers and consistent control of pests in gerberas, to name a few examples. Being red and easy to spot helps, Spencer adds. “There’s lots of that sort of feedback, [growers] seeing it and just being happy that it’s in the crop because they know it’s eating things.”
The future of Anystis
Research is ongoing for Anystis and will continue with questions about the best combination of biocontrol agents and which crops have the most success with Anystis. Saito is also hoping to focus more on the effectiveness of Anystis against pests in cannabis and strawberries.
Spencer says the eagerness among growers is a good sign. “We’re not selling snake oil. It’s all proven and works and should be cost-effective. We just rely on word-of-mouth. If growers are happy with it, they buy more.”
For Saito, the research isn’t just about market value or pest control. It’s personal, being a project that started with his son. “The key for discovering new biocontrol agents is to release the kids into the field and study what they bring back to you,” he says. With this curiosity for bugs and commitment to research, there’s an exciting path ahead for growers using Anystis.
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