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New Surveillance Device Uncovers Insects

By Jim Core
May 11, 2001

Monitoring insect infestations in crops under demanding field conditions will become easier than ever because Agricultural Research Service scientists and cooperators are developing an easy-to-use, hand-held device as the newest weapon in the war against insect pests.

Richard Mankin, a research entomologist with the ARS Center for Medical, Agricultural and Veterinary Entomology (CMAVE), in Gainesville, Fla., has established a cooperative research and development agreement with Acoustic Emission Consulting Inc. (AEC) of Fair Oaks, Calif., to transfer recent insect-detecting advancements to an existing product. The new device will be designed to help growers and warehouse managers survey and target insects, thus reducing the amounts and extent of pesticide use.

Mankin’s latest research involves acoustic detection of insects in crop plants. ARS researchers at CMAVE recently built low-frequency acoustic systems that successfully detect insects hidden from view in stalks or subterranean soil. These surveillance devices can distinguish insect activity from background noises such as wind or vehicle traffic.

The researchers created computer programs that made profiles of different sounds they encounter when searching for infestations. Often, they can determine what type of insect is present in fields by the unique sounds it produces when moving or feeding. With slight modifications to the equipment, they can hear inside packages of post- harvest products, such as cereal boxes and bags of dog food.

However, CMAVE’s researchers had technical problems in converting microphones, sensors, clamps and computer software into practical applications. AEC, designers of ultrasonic systems for industrial leak detection, provides the expertise needed in this area. Now, the scientists say, an individual won’t have to be an acoustic expert to use the device; one only has to push some buttons and look at a read-out.

ARS is the chief scientific research agency in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Scientific contact: Richard W. Mankin, ARS Center for Medical, Agricultural, and Veterinary Entomology, Gainesville, Fla., phone (352) 374-5774, fax (352) 374-5781,

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