Monday, December 24, 2018

Camera traps? Interesting but what about the future?

Using pheromone 'wing' traps to monitor and set the first sustained trap catch (aka biofix) is a first-line IPM strategy to manage lepidoptera pests such as Oriental fruit moth, codling moth, and obliquebanded leafroller in apple orchards. For example, see MODEL BUILDING: the obliquebanded leafroller biofix/degree-day model for controlling first-generation larvae.

For several years now, I have been experimenting (trialing?) automated pheromone traps originally made by Spensa Technologies. At first, their 'Z-traps' literally did 'Zap' and kill (render flightless, at least temporarily) flying male moths entering the trap (attracted by appropriate pheromone), and the on-board electronics would count these moths. That information would then be sent to their cloud-based 'MyTraps' platform where the user could access and visualize the trap data on a 'dashboard' after logging in to their account on the web. (Note that their overall Spensa Agronomic Platform, in addition to MyTraps, also has many other features, particularly a pest scouting and recordkeeping interface available on a mobile device.) In 2018 Spensa was aquired by DTN.

Before 2018 my experience with the Z-Traps was kind of 'meh.' It was primarily a black-box driven set of hardware/software devices, the set-up and transmission of collected data being kind of onerous. Plus, trap distance from the base station, which needed to be hard-wire connected to the internet via router, was limiting. Trapped and killed moths, however, once 'zapped' could be seen and counted after being funneled into a collection device. But I don't want to talk about the old set-up because that has been discontinued.

In 2018, Spensa/DTN introduced a new camera trap, dubbed a 'Smart Trap,' the hardware being nearly identical to before, but instead replaced the 'zapping' mechanism with a simple sticky bottom, just like a traditional pheromone wing trap. Then, a camera located just above the sticky trap bottom would take a daily picture of the bottom and trapped moths, and transmit that to the DTN web dashboard. In addition to being able to remotely visualize what was caught, the Spensatech software could actually isolate the moths, differentiate between old catches and new catches, and chart/plot the results. Overall, based on my experience it (mostly) works!

Smart Trap at UMass Cold Spring Orchard, Belchertown, MA on 27-June, 2018

Sticky bottom of Smart Trap with OBLR capture; note camera points down
at sticky bottom at bottom of white rectangular electronics box
I know it works because in the spring of 2018 I placed two Smart Traps -- one pheromone-baited for codling moth (CM), and one for obliquebanded leafroller (OBLR) -- in a central Massachusetts orchard that is an hour drive from my office in Belchertown, MA. After logging into my DTN Agronomic Platform (AP) dashboard, the traps were automatically placed on a map (after I deployed them in the field, the traps communicating by a cellular connection), and I could configure them by choosing the pest being trapped, when pheromone was added, etc. Then I waited and sure enough pictures of the sticky bottom started appearing daily on my dashboard. Over the days, old catches had red squares placed around them, and then new (daily) catches had green squared placed over the caught moths. In addition the count(s) and graph(s) were automatically updated. Pretty cool! I found over time the flight patterns of both CM and OBLR were matching more-or-less what was being observed in other Massachusetts locations.

Cumulative OBLR caught in Smart Trap; red outlines are
previously caught moths, green outlines are moths caught in past day

DTN AP dashboard chart of season-long OBLR trap catch in one Smart Trap

Season-long OBLR trap catch using conventional pheromone trap(s);
note rough match with chart of moths caught using Smart Trap above
Now you have the gist of what's going on, I would like to point out what I think are the pros and cons of these Smart Traps. I would also like to say I am a little dubious (worried?) about the acquisiton of Spensa (a relatively small tech start-up) by a much larger agronomic platform (DTN), therefore what the future of these traps and the DTN AP will be. There is a lot of promise here to make such pest monitoring eaiser and more widespread, I hope it does not get lost and that the price becomes more palatable for more users.

Smart Traps/DTN Agronomic Platform PROS and CONS


  • SmartTrap set up is simple and communication generally reliable (although one trap out of three I had went dead after awhile, was replaced by DTN)
  • SmartTraps can be installed anywhere there is a decent cellular GSM signal (AT&T, T-Mobile I believe, NOT Verizon)
  • DTN/AP/MyTraps is robust (but has a rather steep learning curve)
  • much time and money and travel can be saved by not having to manually check trap counts
  • trap counts come in daily, which unless the traps are on-site, typically is done only weekly if done manually
  • good season-long record and visualization of trap data with no additional effort (entering data, etc.)


  • cost, about $400 per trap per year (the traps are not owned but leased), mostly to cover the cost of cellular data transmission and to support the DTN cloud and dashboard (note, however, the dashboard has other general scouting uses in addition to supporting Traps)
  • DTN/AP/MyTraps web application has a rather steep learning curve (but is quite robust); probably not for everyone
  • reliability, some issues still need to be improved because as noted one out of three traps failed mid-season (but was readily replaced by DTN)
  • sustainability of Smart Traps and DTN/AP is unknown at this time after aquisition of SpensaTech
  • not having to manually check traps takes out (sometimes) the personal interaction with growers, and perhaps train future pest scouts?
  • will I sign up again in 2019? remains unclear...