Pest Sounds

Richard Mankin (US), as selected by Nicola Twilley (UK)

In Europe and the United States, roughly fifteen percent of the harvest is lost to pests, and in tropical countries, that percentage can be much higher. The problem is that we can’t find the insects that are treating our fields and grain silos as an all-you-can-eat buffet in time to do anything about them. To speed up and automate that detection process, Richard Mankin has spent decades building a library of insect sounds: the rustling of a seventeen-day-old rice weevil larva as it dines on a wheat kernel; the crunching of an Indian meal moth larva feeding on dry dog food; and the mooing of a horny lady psyllid in the citrus groves of Florida are just a small example of his extensive library.

Using these sounds, Richard has built a prototype Acoustic Location Fingerprinting Insect Detector: a probe you can stick inside your food storage container that sets off an alarm at the first sign of insect activity. His latest project involves using his lady psyllid recording to lure hopeful male Asian citrus psyllids into traps — an acoustic pesticide that he hopes will save the Florida orange juice industry.

Here, writer Nicola Twilley has compiled a playable database of some of his insect recordings.

PROFILE

Richard Mankin is an entomologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, based in Gainesville in Florida. His research is focussed on the acoustic detection and control of crop pests. Nicola Twilley is a contributing writer at The New Yorker, the author of the Edible Geography blog, and the co-host of the Gastropod podcast.

Grow House collects a number of projects which propose to bring agriculture out of the fields at the periphery of town and into the centre of our houses, cities and factories.