Male crickets play tunes non-stop to woo a mate or keep enemies away. But they're not playing their song with the body part you're thinking.
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Ask most people about crickets and you’ll probably hear that they’re all pretty much the same: just little insects that jump and chirp.
But there are actually dozens of different species of field crickets in the U.S. And because they look so similar, the most common way scientists tell them apart is by the sounds they make.
“When I hear an evening chorus, all I hear are the different species,” said David Weissman, a research associate in entomology at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.
Weissman has spent the last 45 years working to identify all the species of field crickets west of the Mississippi River. In December, he published his findings in the journal Zootaxa, identifying 35 species of field crickets in the western states, including 17 new species. California alone hosts 12 species. But many closely resemble the others. So even for one of the nation’s top experts, telling them apart isn’t a simple task.
“It turns out song is a good way to differentiate,” Weissman said.
--- How do crickets chirp?
On the underside of male crickets’ wings there’s a vein that sticks up covered in tiny microscopic teeth, all in a row. It’s called the file. There's a hard edge on the lower wing called the scraper.
When he rubs his wings together - the scraper on the bottom wing grates across all those little teeth on the top wing. It’s like running your thumb down the teeth of a comb. This process of making sound is called stridulation.
--- How do crickets hear?
Crickets have tiny ears, called tympana on each of their two front legs. They use them to listen for danger and to hear each other calling.
--- Why do crickets chirp?
Crickets have several different types of songs that serve different purposes. The familiar repetitive chirping song is a mating call that male crickets produce to attract females that search for potential mates.
If a female makes physical contact with a male he will typically switch to a second higher-pitched, quieter courtship song.
If instead a male cricket comes in contact with another adult male he will let out an angry-sounding rivalry call to tell his competitor to back off.
---+ Read the entire article on KQED Science:
---+ For more information:
Professor Fernando Montealegre-Z’s bioacoustics lab
David Weissman’s article cataloging field crickets in the U.S.
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