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Tag, You're It! Using Harmonic Radar to Track the Flight of Beetles

This article is from Issue Invasive Species - Vol. 8 No. 1.

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The Asian long-horned beetle is an insect pest that was discovered in New York in 1996 and Chicago in 1998. It arrived in the United States on wood packing material that was being used to import goods from Asia. Unfortunately, thousands of trees had to be removed from New York and Chicago to destroy the Asian long-horned beetle. To be successful in removing the trees to destroy the beetles, forest managers must know about how far the insect moves every day. The scientist in this study wanted to know about how far an Asian long-horned beetle can fly every day. 

Welcome to the Invasive Species edition

Note to Educators

Invasive Species Lesson Plan

Student Notes Page

Reflection Section Answer Guide

Education Standards Correlations


Meet the scientists that contributed to this article:

"Science Topics" covered in this article:
  • Life Science
  • People and Science
  • Technology and Science

"Environmental Topics" covered in this article:
  • Vegetation Protection (Fire, Insects, Endangered Species) (Educators)

Regions covered in this article:
  • Alaska
  • Forest Products Lab
  • Intermountain
  • International Institute of Tropical Forestry
  • Northern
  • Pacific Northwest
  • Pacific Southwest
  • Rocky Mountain
  • Southern
  • Southwestern

"Thinking About Science Themes" covered in this article:
Technology is giving environmental scientists new ways to study the natural world. For entomologists, technology has enabled them to track the movements of flying insects. To track the movement of animals larger than insects, scientists use a transmitter placed on the animal that sends a signal to a receiver. For small flying insects, these transmitters are too heavy because they require a battery. Entomologists are now using technology called harmonic radar. The scientist attaches a small metal tag to an insect. The tag reflects an electronic signal coming from a hand-held transceiver. (Transceiver is a combination of the words 'transmitter' and 'receiver' because the transmitter also receives the signal that is reflected off the tag.) This signal enables the scientist to locate the tag and, in this case, the insect to which the tag is attached. The reflected signal is the same for all tags, so the scientists must also mark the insects so that they can identify individuals. In this study, the scientist followed the flight of a beetle native to China.
Specific "Thinking About Science" Themes:
  • Scientific Topics
  • The Scientific Process

"Thinking About Environmental Themes" covered in this article:
All animals move. Sometimes movement results in animals placing more distance between themselves and other animals. When animal movement results in more distance between individual animals, scientists call this dispersal . For insects, dispersal is often the result of short flights, usually made when an insect is searching for food or new breeding sites for laying eggs. When the insect is a nonnative pest with eating or breeding behavior that can damage or kill plants, it is important to understand its dispersal. In this study, the scientist traveled to China to study the dispersal of an insect pest that had recently been found in the United States. By observing the insect's dispersal in its native habitat, the scientist was able to better understand how its dispersal might occur in the United States.
Specific "Thinking About the Environment" Themes:
  • Adaptation
  • Ecosystems
  • Invasive Species

NSE Standards covered in this article:
  • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry (A)
  • Diversity and adaptations of organisms (C)
  • Nature of science (G)
  • Populations and ecosystems (C)
  • Regulation and behavior (C)
  • Science and technology in society (F)
  • Science as a human endeavor (G)
  • Understandings about science and technology (E)
  • Understandings about scientific inquiry (A)