Beetle Mania: Could annoying noises help save Colorado's trees?

Some creative researchers at Northern Arizona University have discovered what could be a literally sound solution to saving Colorado's forests that are rapidly dying at the jaws of pine beetles.

The answer could lie in the sound of the beetles -- the original beetles, not the blokes from Liverpool. Rolling with a research assistant's novel idea that maybe rock music -- the likes of Guns N' Roses and Queen -- or the nails-on-a-chalk-board grumblings of Rush Limbaugh would make the beetles scram, scientists eventually decided to give the beetle genre a try. And it might just be a screeching success.

According to the Arizona Republic, distorted recordings of the beetles' own mating and defense calls had a surprising effect on a sample of the bugs nested in a tree: "The beetles stopped mating or burrowing. Some fled, helter-skelter. Some violently attacked each other. Most important, they stopped chewing away at the pine tree."

Colorado has been charging forth on its own efforts to save trees that have been killed or weakened by the gnawing critters -- a situation that not only detracts from the landscape's beauty but represents other dangers, including heightened risk of deadly wildfires. Earlier this month, Colorado nabbed $30 million in federal cash to be used to make more than 300 million acres riddled by pine beetles safer.

If what the researchers are calling "Beetle Mania" works, it could save the state a lot of dough in the long run. Click here to read a Denver Post article about the cost to protect Colorado's most affected forests.

Colorado forest experts can't be sure if similar methods will be tried here because the Arizona findings are so fresh and haven't gone through the whole gamut of scientific review. But Janelle Smith, a Golden-based spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service, said that those working on the pine beetle problem in Colorado's forests are keeping "Beetle Mania" on their "radar."

"It's just something you would never think of," she said. "It sounds interesting."

Not to the beetles, it doesn't.

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J. David McSwane
Contact: J. David McSwane