zoology biology benno meyer rochow science blog sing song

And Now All Together

Singing in chorus is great (when your voice is small)

At one of the many Entomology Conferences I had attended in the past, I presented a paper on sound emission in a small aquatic waterbug known as Synaptonecta issa. The history of that paper is as interesting as its content.
Living in Hamilton (New Zealand), one day I received a phone call from my children’s teacher in which he asked me for advice as to what might keep him awake night after night. The culprit turned out to be the small waterbug Synaptonecta issa (see above), starting to make disturbing sounds in the teacher’s aquarium as soon as the lights were switched off. A native of South East Asia, presumably the eggs of this small insect had reached our shores with a shipment of water weeds for pet shops. I kept a colony of the noisy little buggers for years in my own tropical aquarium (actually enjoying their songs) and together with Dr Antti Jansson of the University of Helsinki discovered that the males of these not even 0.5 cm long insects were scratching their genital capsules at night to scream their lustful longings towards the silent females in the same tank.

Bigger relatives of these waterbugs are known to hear very well and a considerable amount of research on their hearing thresholds and pitch discrimination has been carried out in Slovenia. Our illegal South East Asian immigrants amplified their rather soft crepuscular vocalisations by singing in chorus: as soon as one male started to sing, others joined in, thus increasing the range over which they might be heard. As fantastic as this may sound, synchronizations of signals and behaviours are far more widespread than first expected. In Malaysia, Thailand and Papua New Guinea, for example, hundreds if not thousands of fireflies may simultaneously flicker their lights on and off in perfect synchrony, in precisely the same rhythm.

Wolves frequently form a howling chorus that can ´be heard kilometres away; collectively-feeding sawfly larvae on an Aussie gum tree leaf may all together at exactly the same moment raise their heads and frighten a predator as if they were a “polycephalus” (= multi-headed) mini-monster; and the hatching of bird eggs often occurs at the same time irrespective of the duration over which the eggs were laid.

Birds are also, of course, the undisputed champions when it comes to singing and some species have actually developed a form of duetting. In the African boubou shrike each monogamously living pair famously has its own song repertoire and members of a mated pair sing antiphonal duets with one bird starting and the other completing the song with such incredible accuracy that an untrained human would have thought a single bird had sung the whole song. Actually this behaviour reminds me of neighbours of ours, for when I was a child and Mr K would start a sentence it was Mrs K, who would always be completing it for him! I suppose that’s what you’d call a harmonious relationship.

© Dr V.B. Meyer-Rochow and http://www.bioforthebiobuff.wordpress.com, 2018.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to V.B Meyer-Rochow and http://www.bioforthebiobuff.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s