Detection dogs successfully trained to sniff out endangered insects

By Australian Geographic 3 May 2019
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Who’s a good boy?

RESEARCHERS HAVE successfully trained detection dogs to sniff out the endangered insects of the Victorian high country.

The Alpine stonefly (Thaumatoperla alpina), which calls Falls Creek home, is threatened by land degradation and predation from fish.

While sniffer dogs have previously been trained to detect animals from their nests of faeces, this is the first time they’ve been trained to sniff out the animal itself.

“This is an exciting and innovative way to revolutionise how we gather data on our endangered species, no matter how big or small,” says Lead researcher Julia Mynott, from La Trobe.

“In the past, we’ve been restricted to traditional methods of detection when looking for stoneflies, which include visual surveys and aquatic sampling.”

Alpine stoneflies.

The three dogs– a border collie, black labrador and samoyed– were trained at La Trobe’s Anthrozoology Research Group Dog Lab in Bendigo, where they spent seven weeks memorising the smell of the snowfly.

Researchers hope that they can use the detection dogs to track other insects.

“Insects might not be that appealing to everyone, but they are important for ecosystem functioning, particularly in alpine areas that are environmentally important and under threat from climate change.

“We chose stoneflies as a starting point because they’re such an interesting animal…They’re sensitive to changes in water quality and…their inability to fly makes them vulnerable to other predators in this environment.

“…We’re hoping to secure funding that will enable us to conduct future surveys on the Alpine and Stirling Stonefly, and on a third species of stonefly that can be found at Mount Baw Baw and the Yarra Ranges.”

The three dogs hard at work.