The Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) currently spends around $2 million annually on surveillance trapping to protect our primary industries and natural forests from fruit flies and gypsy moths. Around half the cost of these operations is incurred by inspectors needing to check each trap regularly.

Significant savings are therefore possible if physical trap inspections could be minimised or even eliminated. In addition, physical trap inspections are not ideal, because there may be a significant delay between when an insect is trapped and when it is detected. During this time, the pest may increase and spread further within the environment.

To solve these problems, a team of B3 researchers led by Dr Scott Hardwick of AgResearch has been investigating the use of ‘smart trap’ options, which incorporate remote sensor technology into the insect traps and thereby obviate the need for manual trap inspections. This work has identified cameras, similar to those used in cell phones, as a potential tool for remotely interrogating insect traps.

Early proof-of-concept work identified the critical features of a successful insect trap camera and based on these, B3 sought out a partnership with a small New Zealand business producing security products that could be adapted for biosecurity purposes. A partnership between B3 and Mi5 Ltd, initiated in 2009, has resulted in the development and testing of two prototype self-reporting camera systems that have been specifically adapted for use in biosecurity trapping networks.

This new technology could significantly increase the efficiency of the trapping programs. In addition, the more timely notification of captures will enable better tracing of where the insect originated, a more rapid incursion response, and greater probability of successful pest containment and eradication.

The camera unit includes a 6 megapixel camera with customised focal length, a plug for an external battery unit, an LED flash to enable images to be taken under low light conditions, a GPS unit, a cellular modem, a backup memory card and an internal battery. All of this is encased in a waterproof, shock-resistant casing about the size of a cigarette packet, which can be attached to almost any insect trap.

Images of trap contents are broadcast via the cellular telephone networks to a secure server where they are date-stamped and archived. Users can then view images from traps on a secure website or have them automatically forwarded to an email address or smart phone. The trap cameras can be programmed to produce regular (e.g. daily) images, or interrogated on demand via the internet or cellular phone network.

Image recognition software, currently in development by B3 and Mi5 Ltd, will be able to automatically alert a user to the arrival of an insect in a trap. This will reduce the need to examine the large number of images that may be generated by a surveillance network consisting of thousands of traps.

The camera unit has been developed so that it can potentially be used in conjunction with a range of trap types used in biosecurity trapping networks. The cameras have so far been tested with traps in New Zealand and Italy that are used to detect moths (delta and flat panel traps), fruit flies (Lynfield traps) and bark beetles (Lindgren traps). Australian biosecurity authorities have also expressed interest in using the trap camera units to monitor ‘bee boxes’ for the presence of feral bee colonies.

For more information, contact Dr Scott Hardwick at