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Why Crickets Just Won't Shut Up | Deep Look

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 Biology   |   Environmental   |   Science
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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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DEEP LOOK is a ultra-HD (4K) short video series created by KQED San Francisco and presented by PBS Digital Studios. See the unseen at the very edge of our visible world. Explore big scientific mysteries by going incredibly small.

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Ask most people about crickets and youll probably hear that theyre 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 nations top experts, telling them apart isnt 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 theres a vein that sticks up covered in tiny microscopic teeth, all in a row. Its 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. Its 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:

https://ww2.kqed.org/science/2020/01/14/crickets-chirp-to-flirt/

---+ For more information:

Professor Fernando Montealegre-Zs bioacoustics lab
http://bioacousticssensorybiology.weebly.com/

David Weissmans article cataloging field crickets in the U.S.
https://www.biotaxa.org/Zootaxa/article/view/zootaxa.4705.1.1

---+ Shoutout!

Congratulations to the following fans on our YouTube community tab for correctly identifying the name and function of the kidney bean-shaped structure on the crickets tibia - the tympanum, or tympanal organ:

sjhall2009
Damian Porter
LittleDreamerRem
Red Segui
Ba Ri

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---+ About KQED

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Funding for Deep Look is provided in part by PBS Digital Studios. Deep Look is a project of KQED Science, which is also supported by the National Science Foundation, the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, the Dirk and Charlene Kabcenell Foundation, the Vadasz Family Foundation, the Fuhs Family Foundation, Campaign 21 and the members of KQED.

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