That’s My Song They’re Singing

That’s my song they’re singing is a critical realization in developing the personality of young crickets. Young field crickets don’t have ears like you and me. They develop a sort of equivalent on their front legs called a tympanum. We’re not talking about the subtleties of medieval architecture but about a membrane, like that in our middle ear, that vibrates in response to sound waves.

So very young crickets can’t hear any singing in the hot evenings, but as they hit adolescence they begin to develop their apparatus. DiRienzo et al in the latest J. Animal Behaviour took up the challenge of personality development of field crickets brought up with and without choral participation (1, 2).

Young crickets were kidnapped and divided into groups. Some were brought up in silence and some were brought up listening to taped numbers from a chorus of five males singing in their prime.

Personality questionnaires are out with crickets and so the only answer was to mix, match and sit back to watch the entertainment. Those deprived of growing up in the cacophony of song turned out to be more aggressive than crickets whose tympanums had been vibrating to the nightly rhythms of cheeky, chirpy males.

The idea used to explain this was that those who’d enjoyed the quiet life thought that cricket density was low so a bit of aggression could do them some good. If they had realized that cricket density was high, the aggression could get them into lots of fights which would take up too much time and energy when they could be devoting themselves to the numerous females that would also be around. Taking an easy come, easy go approach would be the way to go.

However another exciting side effect of chorality in the life of a maturing cricket was that those that had lots of singing in their lives grew bigger. Perhaps if your bigger, you don’t feel the need to pick fights by getting in the first blow. (See yesterday's post for example.)

Maybe Congreve was a student of cricket when he penned his immortal line ‘Musick has Charms to sooth a savage breast’ in The Mourning Bride in 1697.

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