Thornbugs: Listening To

ambience: Male thornbug “advertisement signals,” female thornbug duet

Remember the scene in vintage western movies where someone would put their ear to the railroad track to hear a distant train? Well they were hearing the vibrations of the train conducted through the track. Turns out there are a number of different species who can communicate with each other through vibrations in the same way – and amongst them are the insects we’re listening to right now. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. We’re listening to a courtship duet that takes place between male and female thornbugs. The well-camouflaged thornbugs are about half inch in length and they do look a lot like a rose thorns. Well, just as the railroad train sent its vibrations through the tracks, the thornbugs transmit their vibrations through the plant their crawling on. Rex Cocroft, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Missouri explains how we can listen in on these thornbugs in the laboratory.

“If you were standing right next to a plant full of thornbugs, you probably wouldn’t hear anything. Because their sounds travel as vibrations through the plant stems of the plants that they are living on. So there is almost no airborne sound that you can hear. So even if you are really really close, it’s not that their sounds are too faint for us to hear, it’s that they’re traveling through a different medium. They are not traveling through the air, they are traveling through the stems and leaves of plants. So we’re hearing these thornbugs now, using a small vibration microphone that’s attached to the stem with a little bit of wax to keep it firmly in place, and this is picking up vibrations, it’s translating them into a voltage signal and then we can play that back through a loudspeaker as an airborne sound and hear them.”

We’ll hear more on thornbugs in future programs.

Pulse of the Planet is presented by DuPont, bringing you the miracles of science for 200 years, with additional support provided by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

music

Thornbugs: Listening To

For thornbugs the medium moves the message.
Air Date:09/28/2007
Scientist:
Transcript:


ambience: Male thornbug “advertisement signals,” female thornbug duet

Remember the scene in vintage western movies where someone would put their ear to the railroad track to hear a distant train? Well they were hearing the vibrations of the train conducted through the track. Turns out there are a number of different species who can communicate with each other through vibrations in the same way - and amongst them are the insects we’re listening to right now. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. We’re listening to a courtship duet that takes place between male and female thornbugs. The well-camouflaged thornbugs are about half inch in length and they do look a lot like a rose thorns. Well, just as the railroad train sent its vibrations through the tracks, the thornbugs transmit their vibrations through the plant their crawling on. Rex Cocroft, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Missouri explains how we can listen in on these thornbugs in the laboratory.

“If you were standing right next to a plant full of thornbugs, you probably wouldn’t hear anything. Because their sounds travel as vibrations through the plant stems of the plants that they are living on. So there is almost no airborne sound that you can hear. So even if you are really really close, it’s not that their sounds are too faint for us to hear, it’s that they’re traveling through a different medium. They are not traveling through the air, they are traveling through the stems and leaves of plants. So we’re hearing these thornbugs now, using a small vibration microphone that’s attached to the stem with a little bit of wax to keep it firmly in place, and this is picking up vibrations, it’s translating them into a voltage signal and then we can play that back through a loudspeaker as an airborne sound and hear them.”

We’ll hear more on thornbugs in future programs.

Pulse of the Planet is presented by DuPont, bringing you the miracles of science for 200 years, with additional support provided by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.

music