Scientists identify insects by listening to the music of their wings

It's sometimes tricky to identify insect species, but it's also important -- you want to quickly find out whether you're dealing with a disease-carrying threat or a harmless fly. That won't be an issue once UC Riverside scientists get their audio identification system into the field. Their system uses lasers to translate the fluttering of an insect's wings into an audio signal; since each wing beat has its own music-like tempo and tone, it's possible to identify critters with uncanny accuracy. You can confirm a species 88 percent of the time purely through sounds, and the rate only gets higher when you factor in the location and time of day.

The laser sensors are potentially ideal for farmers and others who may want to track pests, but don't always have the necessary cash or experience. The gear is cheap and easy to maintain, with parts that cost less than $10 and can run on solar power. More importantly, it's easy to use -- since the equipment is automatic, you don't need an expert to look at insects caught in jars or on sticky traps. The sensors are only in limited use in Brazil and Hawaii right now, but UC Riverside's team hopes to roll them out worldwide within a year.

[Image credit: Peter Phun/UC Riverside]