University of Florida researchers are finding new ways to thwart crop-devouring pests — by being good listeners.

High-tech acoustic equipment makes it possible for them to listen in as insects gnaw on grapevine roots, making it much easier for vineyard owners to know where to focus their efforts against the pest called the grape root borer.

Will Sanders, a former UF entomology graduate student, conducted much of the research and outlines the project in the current issue of Florida Entomologist.

Using sound to target the pest could one day save vineyard owners money and pay off for consumers in lower costs for grapes and wine, he said. Grapes are a $20 million annual industry for Florida.

The grape root borer, a moth that looks similar to a wasp, is a major pest in grapes in the Southeast. In its caterpillar stage, it feeds inside the grape plant’s roots and damages the plant.

There is a pesticide called chlorpyrifos that works well against the insect, but it is toxic to birds, fish and bees, making many vineyard owners reluctant to use it.

There is another relatively effective control that does not involve pesticides that growers can use, however, called “mounding.”

Before grape root borer caterpillars become moths, they must burrow up to the soil surface. They form their cocoon while still submerged. When grape root borers become adults, they break free from the cocoon and emerge from the soil.

Placing a mound of soil around the base of the grapevine means the insects must travel farther as fragile adults before they reach the surface, and this generally kills them.