One of the best things about fact-checking an article about combatting invasive pests with imported insects is that the researching process jumps back and forth so effortlessly from serious academic and scientific questions, to really crude Discovery Channel-style footage of insects eating other insects. Cutting-edge entomological research is pretty highbrow stuff. Referring to the subjects of cutting-edge entomological research as “zombie ants”? Not so much. To wit:
Brain-eating larvae are inherently newsworthy, but there’s a broader signifance, too. As Michael Behar explains in the latest issue of Mother Jones, Texas’ experiments with phorid flies are part of a relatively recent push by entomologists and land managers to combat invasive pests not with gallons upon gallons of toxic chemicals, but with something far more basic: their natural predators, imported from the home country. The process is called biocontrol, and if it works, it can save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and keep sensitive ecosystems clear of harmful chemicals. It’s not an easy process—biocontrol projects regularly take decades to yield results—but it just may be man’s best shot at reining in invasive pests with names ripped out of Harry Potter (leafy spurge, tansy ragwort, cottony cushion scale) and no natural predators. As one University of Florida researcher tells Behar, “We’ve reached the end of our chemical rope”; maybe it’s time to give the insects a shot.