People and animals feel sound aside from hearing it, and often, the most meaningful communication are at frequencies that humans can’t detect. For example, among other communication tools, whales use low frequency sounds to find a partner or family over long distances. Elephants do the same.
But you don’t need to be a heavy weight to make some noise. For example, a tree cricket rubs its wings’ tooth-like parts to communicate (kind of like people grinding their teeth to express anger). I’ve been looking for insect zappers lately, and these were just some of the fun facts I learned along the way.
According to Rex Cocroft, a biologist at the University of Missouri, treehoppers use leaf stems to communicate. The insect’s abdomen can vibrate like a tuning fork due to muscles in that body part and in their thorax. The vibration travels down the legs of the bug, into the stem, and then to other bugs.
There is barely any airborne sound produced in the process. And so, Cocroft improvises with record player needles and cartridges to detect the stem’s vibrations. In contrast, the treehoppers just use their legs’ sensitive sensors to pick them up. It’s kind of like an awesome, organic form of bug telegraph.
On the other hand, Dartmouth College biologist Laurel Symes listens to vibrations that we do hear, like those from tree crickets. With their wings’ tiny teeth (the pre-requisite for communication?), they vibrate their flaps as if they were drumheads. What’s amazing is that they can discriminate slight differences in frequency, with acuity at par to that of a classical musician.
In the woods, there are a lot of different types of crickets making noise. To us, they all sound the same, but they are actually different. Female tree crickets can tell which sound came from their kind, so they’ll know where to go for mating. (Imagine if human relationships begin the same way).
I enjoyed learning about these languages of vibration and sharing them here. But still, I’ll get a bug zapper to kill insects. It’s just that nothing spoils barbecue parties more than some pesky bugs. And so, here’s to hoping that I’ll have as wide a communication gap as possible with insects of any kind.