The Lobster’s Violin: How It’s Done

music
ambience spiny lobster sounds

Well, it may not sound like a Stradivarius, but the spiny lobster uses the same principle to make its startling sounds as a violinist does when he draws a bow across a string. I’m Jim Metzner and this is Pulse of the Planet. Biologist Sheila Patek is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California in Berkeley. She says that when insects, crustaceans and other creatures with external skeletons make sounds, they typically do it by rubbing two hard parts of their body together, called a pick and a file

“So it’s a series of of bursts of sound as the pick impacts a bump on the file. This is how crickets make sound. Spiny lobsters, we would expect to use the same type of mechanism, like a stick over a washboard but rather than rubbing two hard parts together, spiny lobsters rub a soft tissue over what appears to be a smooth surface. And it makes a creaky noise.”

Surprised to find such a loud sound made by rubbing soft tissues together, Sheila Patek began experiments to work out just how these spiny lobsters were accomplishing this feat. Well, instead of claws, these lobsters have stiff, barbed antennae that they use as weapons. A soft nub at the base of the antennae slides over their smooth head to produce a sound., but as it moves, it sticks and then slips. And every time it slips, it makes a burst of noise which also happens to be the way a violin string makes sound when a bow moves over it.

“Amazingly enough, this is the first time we’ve ever found a structure that works in this particular way in animal systems.”

We’ll hear more about sonorous spiny lobster in future programs. Pulse of the Planet is presented with support provided by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

The Lobster's Violin: How It's Done

Find out what a spiny lobster and a Stradivarius have in common.
Air Date:06/28/2007
Scientist:
Transcript:


music
ambience spiny lobster sounds

Well, it may not sound like a Stradivarius, but the spiny lobster uses the same principle to make its startling sounds as a violinist does when he draws a bow across a string. I’m Jim Metzner and this is Pulse of the Planet. Biologist Sheila Patek is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California in Berkeley. She says that when insects, crustaceans and other creatures with external skeletons make sounds, they typically do it by rubbing two hard parts of their body together, called a pick and a file

"So it’s a series of of bursts of sound as the pick impacts a bump on the file. This is how crickets make sound. Spiny lobsters, we would expect to use the same type of mechanism, like a stick over a washboard but rather than rubbing two hard parts together, spiny lobsters rub a soft tissue over what appears to be a smooth surface. And it makes a creaky noise."

Surprised to find such a loud sound made by rubbing soft tissues together, Sheila Patek began experiments to work out just how these spiny lobsters were accomplishing this feat. Well, instead of claws, these lobsters have stiff, barbed antennae that they use as weapons. A soft nub at the base of the antennae slides over their smooth head to produce a sound., but as it moves, it sticks and then slips. And every time it slips, it makes a burst of noise which also happens to be the way a violin string makes sound when a bow moves over it.

"Amazingly enough, this is the first time we’ve ever found a structure that works in this particular way in animal systems."

We’ll hear more about sonorous spiny lobster in future programs. Pulse of the Planet is presented with support provided by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.