Most of us would associate mistletoe with Christmas, with it being used in decoration and a place under which two people who share a cheeky peck.
However, in the wild, mistletoe is a bloomin’ pain (pardon the pun)! It is actually a parasitic group of plants which grows in shrubs and trees, where it burrows deep into their branches to absorb water and nutrients.
If there is enough mistletoe on the shrub or tree, it can actually kill its host. By doing this, it is putting many forms of plant and tree at risk, so Mexican scientists have decided to go on the offensive.
With mistletoe clusters often being in difficult to reach places such as high up in trees, it can be dangerous to try and remove them by hand, so action had to be taken.
The scientists have created an air gun/paintball gun hybrid, which is capable of shooting herbicide into trees to combat the plant. Powered by compressed air, the pellets can be shot some 25m, allowing them to hit the difficult to reach clusters.
Each capsule consists of two layers, which are made up of a blend of three biodegradable polymers. This allows the pellet to remain intact even after being fired out of the gun, but split open after hitting its target. The other great thing is the pellet manages to kill the mistletoe, yet the host plant remains undamaged.
The setup has been developed by a team from Mexico's INECOL institute, led by researcher Mayra del Ángel and working with colleagues at the Advanced Technology Center in Queretaro (CIATEQ).
According to Ángel, the air gun and pellets can now be adapted to deliver others substances, such as insecticide and fertilizer to help protect other areas of nature who may be in danger from predators… You could say it acts like Dutch, protecting Mother Nature one threat at a time!