Israeli researchers have unveiled a first-of-its-kind radar that can accurately detect the size and direction of insect swarms to help warn farmers and save crops.
The insect radar, created at the University of Haifa, was installed near the Agamon Hula nature reserve in the far north of Israel, near the Golan Heights.
Understanding swarm behavior has been a field of study for decades, but estimating the number of individuals within a swarm has been difficult, with some locust swarms containing up to a billion members.
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“It is the only radar capable of providing comprehensive information on the movement of insects through the air,” said Professor Nir Sapir from the University. “We will be able to measure the flow of insects that migrate in large numbers for much of the year.”
He added that researchers could also “identify pollinating insects that are of great importance to wild plants and agriculture, as well as other insects that cause damage to agriculture, such as various species of moths. “.
One of these butterflies is the Fall Armyworm, an invasive species native to South America. It arrived in Israel recently and is one of the most harmful in the world, capable of damaging more than 350 species of plants.
The crop most affected by FAW larvae is maize, Sapir said. Together with international peers, they began using radar “to understand the movement of these butterflies, as a first step towards controlling their spread”.
The device will allow researchers to estimate the density, direction and speed of migration, elevation and body size of insects, and assess factors influencing insects flying in this area.
With data on size, flight speed, wing movement and body shape, the team plans to apply a machine learning-based classification tool to identify groups of insects – and later specific species – using radar.