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Pest monitoring and identification are critical steps to the success of an integrated pest management (IPM) program. Traditionally, insect monitoring is a labor-intensive process with daily or weekly checks, followed by manually entering population data into spreadsheets. Z-traps and Smart Traps, developed by DTN (formerly Spensa Technologies Inc), can simplify insect monitoring for crop advisors and producers. This is a summary of results from recent research on new automatic traps supported by several grants from USDA-NIFA and the National Peanut Board.

What are Z-traps?

Z-traps were the first widely-available automatic traps that included a cellular communication unit, integrated with bioimpedance sensors to detect insects. Z-traps fitted with pheromone lures, have metal zapper rods inside the plastic hut that shocks the moths, killing them in the process. Z-traps have a plastic bucket collector that allows a  large number of moths to be captured. The trap automatically sends the count data once every 24 hours to the DTN AP software for retrieval.

What are Smart (Sentinel) Traps?

Smart Traps are sticky traps with a camera mounted on top that automatically sends counts and pictures to the DTN AP software. These traps use 7 x 7 inch plastic delta trap inserts (Alpha Scents Inc) placed under the camera. Traditional sticky wing traps use 7.5 x 9 inch cardboard bottoms.

Automatic traps for insect monitoring

Automatic traps directly record data into special software for quick viewing.

Automatic Traps vs Traditional Traps

In 2017 and 2018, Z-traps and traditional sticky wing traps were compared at the Auburn University department of horticulture’s crops garden. This area was chosen because of the diverse field and horticultural crops grown in the area. Because Smart Traps became commercially available in 2018, they were included in the 2018 comparison.

Trap comparison data from three-year research indicate the following trends:

  • Quality of images from the Smart Traps is outstanding, along with the accurate counts it gives for various moth species. The images allowed easy verification of the total numbers in a trapping period. DTN AP software is a useful interface for archiving trap data from multiple locations.
  • The number of moths in a trap is related to the trap type and size of the moth. For example, sticky wing traps with a wide bottom, captured a larger number of small moths (ex. lesser cornstalk borer, LCB) compared to the Smart Traps with a small sticky bottom. Z-traps with a collection bucket are efficient in trapping large sized moths such as fall armyworm (FAW) and tobacco budworm (TBW).
  • Automatic traps are reliable in showing changes in pest activity over a long season with a good battery life. The DTN AP software dashboard shows signal strength and battery life, along with recorded data in an easy format for viewing on computer or smart phone.
  • Smart Traps have to be checked on a weekly basis during peak moth activity since the trap bottom is smaller than a traditional sticky wing trap. The camera and the software worked well to count insects and archive the numbers online.
  • Z-traps are useful to collect a large number of moths in the bucket. However, plant debris and other material can trigger false readings. It is a good idea to check the condition of all automated traps after heavy rainfall or storm events.
  • While the traps are useful for measuring pest activity, none of the traps can predict the actual caterpillar load on various crops. Moth activity seems to decrease in years with a heavy rainfall and that may affect caterpillar pressure. Producers must directly check crops and act timely to protect yield.
  • All traps must be checked after severe weather, such as heavy rainfall and hurricanes. Automatic traps are currently much more expensive compared to traditional traps, but they are cost-effective investments as monitoring tools of the future. Automatic trap data can be integrated with weather conditions, soil maps, and other resources for precision agriculture.

More Information

Additional details about pest monitoring and scouting can be found on the Alabama Vegetable IPM page of the Alabama Extension website. For further information, contact your county Extension commercial horticulture agent. To receive timely pest alerts, subscribe to the Alabama IPM Communicator Newsletter.


Trade and brand names used in this publication are given for information purposes only. No guarantee, endorsement, or discrimination among comparable products is intended or implied by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

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