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UAVS MAKE SHORT WORK OF INVASIVE PESTS

The Yamaha Sky Division has taken an active role in the fight against invasive ants, deploying its unique Fazer R GM helicopter. 

For a small insect, ants can have a large impact on a local economy. Estimations on the global impact of invasive ants run into the billions of dollars annually (Hoffmann, CSIRO, 2017). In Australia, numerous eradication programs are currently underway.

Argentine ants rank among the world’s 100 worst animal invaders (source: Global Invasive Species Database). They were first discovered on Norfolk Island, the tiny Australian island located 1500 km east of Brisbane in 2005, and an eradication program has been in place since 2008. Initially, treatments were conducted using traditional ground- based methods, but the work was difficult and slow, particularly in the dense vegetation covering deep and steep valleys. Aerial treatment was deemed to be more practical, but expensive to undertake using conventional helicopters.

While the recent growth in popularity of multi-rotor electric drones has highlighted the benefits provided by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) over more traditional methods of payload delivery, their limited weight-carrying capacity and flight time has hindered their use. Different to all other UAV operators available in Australia was Yamaha Sky Division and its Fazer R GM unmanned helicopters. With a 60-minute flight time, and the ability to carry payloads of up to 38 kg, the 390cc, twin-cylinder Fazer R GM helicopter can cover vast areas of remote, rough terrain with ease, delivering its payload with pinpoint accuracy.

In 2017, a trial was conducted on yellow crazy ants at the Queensland city of Townsville to gauge the Fazer R GM’s suitability and effectiveness for the Norfolk Island project. An area of 34.5 hectares was treated with almost three tonnes of a hydrogel bait distributed over nine days. Monitoring revealed that most of the yellow crazy ants had been killed 12 hours post- treatment, demonstrating that this delivery method was as efficacious as conventional baiting, both land- based and aerial.

The hydrogel bait is dispersed by Yamaha’s granular spreader

UAV treatments on Norfolk Island were conducted in 2019, targeting 44 hectares of Argentine ant infestations. Eight treatments were applied, using 21.4 tonnes of the hydrogel matrix over a 30-day period. This is the most extensive area covered to date by the Yamaha Sky team, and by far the greatest amount of bait delivered by a UAV for ant eradication.

In a press release, Jim Castles, the senior environment officer on Norfolk Island, said a lot had been learned about how best to eradicate Argentine ants from the many different environments found on the Island. “The range of techniques we now have appear to be effective and capable in eradicating Argentine ants from the whole island within a few years,” he said.

Yellow crazy ants in Townsville taking the bait dispersed by Yamaha. It was confirmed that most of this colony was destroyed 12 hours post-treatment

The unique payload delivery system of the Fazer R GM helicopter also makes it suitable for specialist pest eradication projects, including pesticide-free organic farming.

For example, the six-spotted mite from Central America was recently discovered at an avocado orchard in Pemberton, Western Australia. Having built up a resistance to modern chemicals, a predatory parasite was developed as a pesticide-free way to eradicate the problem.

With conventional methods of disbursement deemed unsuitable or cost prohibitive, the Yamaha Fazer R GM was brought in to attack the problem from the sky, dispersing the specially developed predatory mite in a swift and pinpoint accurate manner.

The Yamaha Sky Team and its Fazer R GM UAV helicopters are gaining a reputation as an efficient and cost-effective tool in the war against invasive pests. Expect them to become a common fixture in our skies over the next few years.

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