Bark beetles' own bug songs drive them crazy
Bark beetles that are ravaging Arizona's forests can be deterred by their own 'music,' according to new research.
Tue, Feb 09, 2010 at 11:29 PM
HUNGRY: Bark beetles have chewed through millions of acres of the West's pine forests. (Photo: Associated Press)
Researchers at Northern Arizona University recently revealed a new weapon against swarms of tree-eating bark beetles. Rather than dousing them with environmentally unfriendly pesticides, researchers exposed the bugs to recordings of their own mating calls. And their reaction was to freeze, flee, or violently attack one another.
The NAU study focused on devising ways to stop the aggressive bark beetles, which are devastating the forests of the West. Azcentral.com reports that the bugs have chewed through millions of acres of the West's pine forests, leaving behind dry, dead trees and the potential risk of wildfires. Experts say the bark beetles have decimated 80 million ponderosa, piñon and lodgepole pines in Arizona and New Mexico alone.
Richard Hofstetter is a forest entomologist at NAU and leader of the study. As he told Azcentral.com, "Our interest is to use acoustic sounds that make beetles uncomfortable and not want to be in that environment." At first, the researchers blared Queen and Guns N' Roses and played snippets of radio talker Rush Limbaugh backward for the beetles. The beetles were undeterred. But when researchers played digitally altered recording of their own songs, the beetles went crazy. As one researcher noted, at one point “the male stopped mating and tore the female apart.”
The study, notably called “Beetle Mania,” took place in a lab. The researchers hope to gain funding to take the twisted beetle songs out into the wild. Researchers hope that beetles can be reined in with this acoustic pest control.