It’s not science fiction: sound waves could be the answer to the perils of toxic chemical pesticides, which ravage the planet and jeopardize our health.
A recent study from Florida researchers examines the use of sound waves to inhibit mating between male and female Asian Citrus Psyllid insects. Destroying orange trees through a disease named ‘citrus greening,” these bugs spread bacteria that turns leaves yellow and fruit bitter.
Incurring an estimated $3.6 billion loss to orange juice industry in Florida during 2006-2012, this bug is certainly threatening our morning orange juice. Richard Mankin, research entomologist at the USDA’s Center for Medical, Agricultural and Veterinary Entomology in Florida and Barukh Rohde, Ph.D. student, are working on these acoustic traps that can curb mating and control the population of Psyllids.
As they presented their research at the 170th meeting of Acoustical Society of America (ASA), Mankin said he believes that such methods are essential to prevent rising threat of pesticide resistance developed by the bugs.
A close look at the mating pattern provided a key for this study. Male Psyllid insects sit on leaves of orange trees and send out vibrations by “buzzing.” As the vibrations spread to adjacent leaves and branches, they wait for response from their female counterparts. Moving in direction of the female call, they complete the mating process, giving rise to many more bugs for destruction.
The device designed by Mankin and his team consists of a piezoelectric buzzer and a microphone wired to a microcontroller. When a male insect sends out his mating signals, the buzzer detects it and radiates a fake female response before any ‘real’ action. As the male moves in this direction of the fake call, he is eventually trapped and immobilized on an adhesive surface. By preventing their union, these devices can control proliferation to a great extent.
With insects in lab demonstrating good response to this fake call, Mankin estimates that these devices can be effective over a range of 2 feet in a citrus tree when used in the orange fields. Their further studies are aimed towards reducing the cost of setup, which is currently estimated to be around $50-100 per unit.
Along with action on Asian Psyllids, these acoustic devices have wider applications on fruit flies, mosquitoes, moths, cockroaches and field crickets. Mankin believes such electronic and acoustic methods can prove safe, effective and useful to prevent crop wastage and environmental hazards.
“If you can target low populations and treat just the isolated populations, the costs are quite a bit lower, and there’s less environmental damage,” he said, as reported in Newswise.
As a harmless solution for a harmful task, sound waves may very well be the answer to chemical pesticides’ environmental devastation.