60-Second Science

Cricket Fossil Reveals Ancient Song

Based on the remains of a long-extinct bushcricket, researchers have reconstructed its call. Sophie Bushwick reports

Crickets make a big contribution to the sounds of a summer night. And they’ve been doing so for some 165 million years. Now paleontologists have reconstructed the song of a long-extinct bushcricket—based on its remains.

The researchers got hold of a bushcricket fossil from the Jurassic period with well preserved wings. Even the stridulating organs, which insects rub together to make noise, were visible, which allowed researchers to compare the extinct cricket to 59 living species.
The scientists concluded that the crickets produced single frequencies in short bursts. And based on physiology and the comparisons, they estimated the pitch and length of each note that the ancient species sang. Here’s the call: [Cricket sound]

The study is in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. [Jun-Jie Gu et al., "Wing stridulation in a Jurassic katydid (Insecta, Orthoptera) produced low-pitched musical calls to attract females"]

This work shows that the anatomy to make music had already evolved over a hundred million years ago. Like modern bushcricket species, the ancient male crickets probably sang to advertise their presence and reproductive quality to potential mates. As a bonus, they’ve helped us know a bit about the sound of their long-lost world.

—Sophie Bushwick

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]   

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