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Join in The Big Bug Hunt and Outsmart Pests
by Ben Vanheems
April 21, 2019

Pests are an inevitable part of gardening. But what if you could predict when they were going to appear? You could set up defenses or be on alert for early infestations, ready to act promptly before they escalated.

This is the vision of a major citizen science project that is collecting observations of bugs to identify patterns in their behavior. The data is being used to develop a pest prediction service that will notify gardeners when pests are headed their way.

The Big Bug Hunt invites gardeners across the country to report sightings of bugs as they see them. More than 20,000 individuals have already taken part, reporting bugs of all kinds – from pests such as squash bugs and aphids to beneficial bugs like bees – in what is believed to be the biggest project of its kind

Observations shared through the website BigBugHunt.com inform researchers what bug was seen, when it was seen and any plant it was on or near. The anonymously shared location of the sighting pinpoints it on a map. With thousands of reports like this, patterns begin to emerge, building up a picture of when and how bugs first appear and spread, and what influences this behavior.

The ambitious project is lead by garden app developer Growing Interactive, having worked in collaboration with specialists in data analysis to apply the very latest developments in machine learning to the collected data.

Now in its fifth year, researchers have made excellent progress predicting common garden pests like Japanese beetle. Accuracy is expected to improve still further as many more join The Big Bug Hunt over the coming months to share their observations.

Our increasingly hard-to-forecast weather doesn’t make predicting pests easy, as Project Coordinator Jeremy Dore explains: “Huge variations in the severity of winter and spring’s arrival leave gardeners second-guessing what pests to expect when.

“The Big Bug Hunt uses real-world observations across often contrasting seasons and years to identify the patterns behind the weather that predict when a pest will strike. The more reports we get the better. Reports received across multiple seasons help to refine the results so we can make predictions to an even higher degree of confidence.”

Getting involved in The Big Bug Hunt is easy. Head to BigBugHunt.com to report a bug, which takes just seconds. The website includes detailed pest identification guides – with effective treatment and prevention ideas – and you have the option to sign up for updates, bug-busting emails and free downloadable charts.

Development of a pest prediction service is now at an advanced stage. The first emailed pest alerts are expected to go out to gardeners later this year. Anyone who contributed a report to The Big Bug Hunt over the past year will be first to benefit from the service, while participants making an accurate report in 2019 will be offered email alerts next year. The service will also become an integral part of the online Garden Planners available from GrowVeg.com, The Old Farmer’s Almanac, Mother Earth News magazine and many gardening suppliers’ websites.

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