Based on data from citizen scientists, The Big Bug Hunt can alert you about when to take preventive actions in your garden.

By Megan Hughes
May 05, 2020
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When you have a garden, you'll likely also have to contend with hungry bugs that want to nibble your prized flowers or move into your lettuce patch. But now you could have a secret weapon to help deal with them, thanks to The Big Bug Hunt. This citizen science project aims to give you a heads-up when certain pests like cucumber beetles and cabbage worms will arrive in your region so you can be ready for them instead of caught by surprise. It recently launched a free pest prediction service that will provide you with a weekly alert about the most common and destructive pests appearing in your area.

Japanese beetles eat a wide variety of plants like this zinnia.
| Credit: Denny Schrock

Getting Ahead of the Bugs

The Big Bug Hunt launched 5 years ago in response to a common frustration its founder, Jeremy Dore heard from gardeners. “An overwhelming response was that they could invest time and energy into planning, planting, and carefully tending plants, only to have their crops spoiled just before harvest by a pest that they didn’t anticipate.”

Dore set out to create a system that would provide a warning when pests are expected to appear, opening the door for more environmentally friendly insect control. “In order to control pests organically, you nearly always need to know pests are on their way, before they start destroying crops. Many organic control techniques involve spotting eggs of potential pests, covering crops to project them, and other methods of natural control,” Dore says.

Gardeners Helping Each Other Beat Pests

What The Big Bug Hunt needed first was to find out when and where particular pests were showing up, so in 2015 the team called on gardeners across the world to contribute pest sightings. It created a website where people can post a bug sighting in less than 10 seconds, giving scientists valuable data they can use to make predictions.“We believe this is the largest citizen science project of its kind,” says Dore. Today more than 30,000 people worldwide are involved in the project.

“Our specialist team checks reports for accuracy and then analyzes the spread of insects as they move across a country in relation to various meteorological factors,” Dore says. The more bugs reported to the database, the more accurate the predictions will be. You can report bugs in real-time to The Big Bug Hunt, and also sign up to receive pest predictions for your region. Not familiar with a bug you are seeing in your garden? There are handy identification guides on the website, both for pests and beneficial insects.

What to Do When Bugs Are on the Way

Knowing when a destructive pest will appear in your garden is the first step in the battle to save your produce or plants. When you receive a warning of impending infestation, The Big Bug Hunt will recommend organic-based actions for preventing specific bugs from settling in your garden, as well as easy-to-follow, organic solutions for managing pest outbreaks.

“The opportunity to use modern technology to beat an age-old problem gardeners have always struggled with is wonderful,” Dore says. “We can help people become more resilient and successful at growing food [and other plants] using organic methods.”

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