This is almost too cool to be true.
In Montana, prairie dogs have been subject to a sylvatic plague brought on by fleas that arrived via rats from California in the 19th century. Black-footed ferrets both use those prairie dog burrows for homes and the prairie dogs themselves for food, and they’ve been contracting the same plague, and now they’re nearly gone. The prairie dogs are the black-footed ferrets only source of shelter and food, and also a keystone species important to other animals like owls, eagles and coyotes.
US Fish and Wildlife (FWS) can vaccinate the ferrets via injection, but prairie dogs are another story because their territory is too vast to do it effectively.
FWS is now working with private contractors to develop drones that can disperse vaccine-infused peanut butter-smeared M&M’s from the air. Apparently the prairie dogs find the M&M’s delicious — because who wouldn’t love peanut butter-smeared M&M’s — and they get vaccinated in the process. That means more prairie dogs survive the plague, they get to become ferret food, and the ferrets survive.
FWS biologist Randy Machett says the new drone is a kind of “glorified gumball machine” that can spread the tasty vaccine in 30-foot intervals and in multiple directions.
EDIT: Fondumentalist has uncovered the drone prototype:
Maybe this is one way to vaccinate all those kids in Arizona against measles.