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Eine Kleine Nacht Musik

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Published on: Jun. 2, 1998

Last revision: Oct. 28, 2010

old Ozarkian gentleman who is sitting on a park bench one summer night listening to the crickets. An elderly lady joins him on the bench, smiles and begins to listen to the choir rehearsing in the nearby church. She closes her eyes and says dreamily to the old gentleman, "Isn't that beautiful?"

"It sure is," he replies, "I'm told they do it by rubbing their legs together."

That's how I thought they did it too... the crickets I mean. But the truth is, it's grasshoppers that use their legs to produce sound; crickets and katydids use only their wings.

On a bright September morning as Susanne and I drove to one of her research sites, she told me more about the musicians whose tunes jam the airways on sultry summer nights. Crickets and katydids produce sound by means of a ridge-and-file system. They call by scraping the fixed ridge on the edge of their forewing against the file on the underside of the other wing.

Grasshoppers have several ways of producing sound. The most common way is by scraping the teethlike structures on their hind legs against a vein on their outer wing covers. These sounds usually are not loud enough to be picked up by the human ear. Some grasshoppers produce sound when they fly, and this noise, familiar to all of us, is reminiscent of playing cards hitting the spokes of a bicycle wheel. The clicks are made by pumping blood into the wings during flight and then popping them closed.

But why do these tiny creatures go to so much trouble to produce sound? Are they serenading us? I like what writer and naturalist Sue Hubbell has to say about them in her book, Broadsides From the Other Orders. "None of them care about our doings; they sing not of lies or murders but of their own affairs."

Most of the time it is the males that sing of such "affairs," and much work has been done to decipher just what it is they are trying to say. We now know they have courting calls, population spacing calls and aggressive calls, all of which serve a purpose in lives perhaps as complex as our own.

After listening to Susanne, I learned that male crickets are fierce competitors. The reason? Females are attracted to the loudest singer. When you hear a chorus of male crickets they are trying to jam each other's frequencies so their

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