Using Sound Instead of Chemicals to Deal With Pests

Scientists have created a clever device that mimics the cry of a major pest to orange trees in Florida.

These small insects could spell disaster to your ability to enjoy breakfast.

Diaphorina citri (the Asian citrus psyllid), a citrus pest that gobbles away at the leaves of orange trees, is wreaking havoc in Florida’s citrus industry, costing them over three billion dollars in a span of only six years. Though the pest itself does little to harm orange trees, the germs that it carries certainly do, and once a plant is infected, its leaves will begin to die until, within a short number of years, the whole tree succumbs to the infection.

Scientists in the industry are searching for ways to stop the destructive little bug, and one promising method involves the use of sound waves instead of chemical pesticides to negatively affect the animal’s mating process.

Richard Mankin, a specialist in the study of insects (entomology) who works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) indicates that these efforts are an attempt to avoid the overuse of pesticides, which, through natural selection, can cause increased resistance in a population of insects and make the problem even less controllable in the long run. After his research on using sound waves to disturb the pest’s mating calls, he presented his discoveries to the American Acoustical Society.

The mating call of a male diaphorina citri essentially consists of his perching on a tree’s leaves and sending a buzz of small vibrations through the branch system by shuddering his wings, thus revealing his intentions and location to a female. Scientists mimicked the sound and disturbed the mating display by using a buzzer attached to a simple microprocessor.

Currently, the device is impractically expensive because of its lack of range—only about 2 feet—so researchers are attempting to lower its cost, which is currently up to 200 USD per unit. According to Mankin, the acoustic method is still currently inferior to using pesticides, but he expects that as chemical agents become less effective due to resistance, prices for this new technique will fall, and using sound waves to fight the bug will become more practical.

Mankin said he hopes the device can work in tandem with pesticides, targeting infestations to reduce the amount of chemicals used and to help postpone the psyllids’ development of resistance to insecticides.

“We’re looking at the devices more as partners than as a replacement,” he said.

The idea of using sound to catch or deter insects has wider applications, Mankin noted. Acoustic devices have been successfully used to trap pests such as mosquitoes, midges, mole crickets, field crickets, moths, cockroaches, and fruit flies. Ultrasonic signals that simulate bat cries could deter night-flying insects.

“Trying to develop electronic-based pest control is a good idea, because it will help the production of food-and we need all the help we can get to feed the world’s growing population in the future,” Mankin said.

Featured Image: credit to Flickr/Nikita


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