Sharpshooter Insects’ Sexy Vibrations Spell Trouble in the Vineyard | Deep Look


From Deep Look.

Sharpshooter insects are beautiful, but they transmit a devastating disease that kills grapevines. When it’s time to mate, they shake their abdomens to make strange calls that – when amplified in a lab – sound like a clucking chicken, a howling monkey or a motorcycle revving up. Now scientists have found a way to use their songs against them.

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Entomologist Rodrigo Krugner has spent days on end listening to insects’ intimate conversations. This esoteric and painstaking bit of spy work is for a good cause: protecting your glass of California wine and bunch of table grapes.

Krugner studies the mating calls of sap-sucking insects called sharpshooters at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research facility in Parlier, in the California Central Valley. As it turns out, the insects’ pillow talk is pretty entertaining.

“They have harmonics and some are beautiful,” Krugner said. “Some sound like a baby crying, some sound like a motorcycle.”

— Why are sharpshooters a problem for grape growers?

Sharpshooters make a living hopping around plants like grapevines and feeding on their sap. They dig their mouthpart into a grapevine’s xylem, the tissue that carries up water and small amounts of sugars and minerals from the roots and distributes this sap throughout the plant. While sharpshooters stuff themselves, they inject a bacterium called Xylella fastidiosa into grapevines. The bacteria cause Pierce’s disease, which kills grapevines by dehydration.

Blue-green sharpshooters are the main transmitters of Pierce’s disease in California’s world-renowned wine regions of Napa and Sonoma and along the state’s coast. The invasive glassy-winged sharpshooter – a larger red and brown insect – spreads the disease in Southern California and the California Central Valley.

— How do sharpshooter insects make their mating calls?

Sharpshooters vibrate their abdominal muscles to call out to potential mates on grapevines.

While other insects, such as cicadas, have air sacs that help them communicate, sharpshooters use their entire bodies as noisemakers.

“Insects aren’t one solid piece,” Krugner said. “The source of the signal is the muscles. Once they vibrate the muscles, the exoskeleton moves. Every tiny bit moves.”

The sharpshooters’ vibrations travel down to the roots and from one vine to another.

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🏆Congratulations🏆 to the fan on our Deep Look Community Tab for correctly identifying the sharpshooter’s special feeding mouthpart – the stylet, and the pathogen they inject – Xyllela fastidiosa:

Daksh Kumar Sharma

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#sharpshooter #insect #wine

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