Rusty the dog - Biosecurity’s new weapon against Velvetleaf
Searching for pest plant Velvetleaf made for thirsty work for Rusty the seven-year-old border collie cross when helping our bio security team this month.
Rusty and his handler John Taylor worked with Greater Wellington’s biosecurity officer Kevin Stevens to search two Wairarapa farms for the uninvited pest plant. This was where a small number of seedlings were found in 2016.
It’s the first time we’ve used a dog to help us monitor plants and Rusty is pretty exceptional.
He sniffs out Velvetleaf by its distinctive smell. He can even find dead plants or those almost invisible to the naked eye.
Once a plant is found Rusty will alert John by sitting down beside it or by lying on top of it. That is where our team comes in, loging the plants location using GPS and digging it out.
Rusty was initially trained as a search and rescue dog but is now one of just a few taught to sniff out Velvetleaf. He and John travelled all the way from Invercargill.
Velvetleaf has been causing headaches for the biosecurity sector since it was introduced last year in imported contaminated fodder beet seeds. It produces up to 15,000 resilient seeds, capable of surviving up to 50 years in the ground and potentially devastating future crops if it becomes established.
On his two-day mission, Rusty only found one dead plant. This is good news, however because Velvetleaf is so new to New Zealand, we are still learning how quickly it grows and how this may vary across different landscapes.
Rusty will be making a second visit to the region early next year to help us continue to monitor this invasive pest weed and keep it from spreading.
Want to know more about Velvetleaf?
Find out what it looks like and what you can do to help if you stumble across it on the MIP website.