Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

September 3, 2008

Sweet Song of Success

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 8:37 pm

  Insect music is everywhere this time of year. I could say that “the hills are alive with the sound of music,” but here on the flatlands near the Erie shore we have no real hills.  We have a few fake ones, but they don’t count. It’s more accurate to say that “the fields, trees, and bushes are alive with the sound of crickets.” I doubt that the Hollywood version of Maria Von Trapp would have been caught dead singing those words as she ran through a tangled scrub thicket.  The camera would have lost sight of her and the crickets would have stopped calling. That’s no way to start a musical. This is probably one reason that “The Sound of Crickets” never made it to the big screen. The other reason is that cricket music isn’t all that musical to our ears.

  Sure, cricket chirps can be soothing at times, or even informative (see Naturespeak: Crickemometer), but for the most part they are rather annoying. To prove my point, listen to this recording and see how long you can take it (listen to Black-horned Tree Cricket– on full volume). This is the call of the Black-horned Tree Cricket.  Although this creature is in the same family as the soothing-toned Snowy Tree Cricket, his call is more migraine inspiring than mesmerizing.

  The Black-horned head driller, er…Tree Cricket, is only about a half inch in length. Like all tree crickets he is slender and relatively pale (see picture above).  They are a secretive lot that go about their daily lives in obscurity – that is until summer is nearly extinct. Then the males begin to perform their calls with machine-like precision in order to attract potential mates. Wings lifted high up off their abdomen, the guys rub a file on one wing against a ridge on the other to create their pulsating version of a love siren.

  Just for your own edification, you might like knowing that this call is produced at a numbing rate of about 35-45 pulses per second at a level of around 4 kHz (kilohertz that hurt). Because Black-horned Tree Crickets prefer lower vegetation, they are more frequently seen than their arboreal relatives. Still, they are not easy to find.

  It took me about ten minutes to locate this male (see here) even though my ears were beginning to bleed. He stopped calling immediately upon being discovered and froze into position.  His orientation at the base of the grape leaf apparently was not accidental, however.  As he was, the curl of the leaf formed a natural sound dish that amplified his manly tones. I found another individual a few minutes later and he was situated in the same exact kind of spot (see here). This little bit of acoustical posturing makes for better projection. Projection is the way to get the babes.

  Female Tree Crickets are lured in from afar by the sound of this music.  Once the gals are close in, the males have to switch from music to food in order to keep them around.  Underneath those musical wings lies a pair of cavities filled with sweet secretions.  So-called “Honey Pots” by keen tongued entomologists, these syrup dispensers are actually called metanotal glands. They exude a high protein brew which acts as a courtship gift.  The females are induced to crawl up onto the male’s back and imbibe in the nectar.  While she laps up the ambrosia (often lingering for up to an hour), the male successfully does his “reproductive thing.”

  Ah, Music and food – the stuff of annoying romance.

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