Sweet Music: Fighting Pests With Sound Waves, Not Pesticides

A tiny bug is threatening your morning orange juice.


In Florida, the Asian citrus psyllid, an aphid-size creature that feeds on the stems and leaves of citrus trees, cost the juice business $3.6 billion between 2006 and 2012. The real damage from “citrus greening” comes from bacteria spread by the bug, which causes leaves to turn yellow and kills the tree in a few years.

Researchers are looking into new ways to combat the pests, and one project focuses on sound rather than pesticides to disrupt the insects’ mating habits.

“We’re trying hard to cut down on use of pesticides in orange groves, partly because we are worried they’ll build up resistance to pesticides, and that will make things even worse,” said Richard Mankin, a research entomologist with the United States Department of Agriculture. He presented findings on the acoustic disruption at the meeting of the American Acoustical Society this week in Jacksonville.

When a male psyllid wants to mate, he alerts a female by sitting on a leaf and buzzing his wings to send vibrations along leaves and branches. To disrupt that activity, the researchers created a device containing a piezoelectric buzzer and a microphone wired to a microcontroller.

RELATED: 6 Things to Know About the EPA’s New Pesticide Rules

The device detects the incoming male call and emits a fake female response call through the buzzer before any neighboring psyllids can answer. When the male bug comes near the device, he gets snagged and immobilized on an adhesive surface. In lab tests, the insects subjected to the noise were four times less likely to find a mate than other psyllids.

Mankin said the gadget will be tested soon in orange groves. He has worked on similar sound disruptors for grapevines. It is unknown if the vibrational sound would have other ecological impacts.

The team is working to lower the price of the device, which costs between $50 and $200 and only covers two feet of a tree. Mankin said that in the short-term sound will not trump pesticides in fighting the Asian citrus psyllid. “Looking ahead, we’re expecting however that the psyllids will become resistant to the pesticides and that the costs of the new technology will continue to decrease,” he said.

Mankin said he hopes the device could 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.

This article originally appeared on TaKePart.com

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"604772","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"1525","style":"width: 100px; height: 23px;","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"6523"}}]]

Watch an Al Jazeera video about how the Asian citrus psyllid threatens Florida's orange industry:

RELATED STORIES

Is the Federal Govt. Harassing and Censoring Its Own Scientists for Studying Ties Between Pesticides and Bee Deaths?

More Than 100 Monsanto Employees Crashed My Presentation on GE Crops and Pesticides

Landmark Study Finds Queen Honeybees Harmed by Controversial Pesticides

Pesticides in Paradise: Hawaii's Spike in Birth Defects Puts Focus on GM Crops

The 3 Best DIY Garden Pest Sprays

Four of the Worst Pests Could Be a Lot More Prevalent If Global Temperatures Keep Going up

Keep up to date with important environment news and opinion; sign up to receive AlterNet's weekly environment newsletter.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card

Close

Thanks for your support!

Did you enjoy AlterNet this year? Join us! We're offering AlterNet ad-free for 15% off - just $2 per week. From now until March 15th.