60-Second Science

Grasshoppers Adjust Calls in Traffic Din

Compared with males that lived someplace quiet, roadside-dwelling grasshoppers selectively boosted the bass notes in their mating calls to be heard above traffic noise. Karen Hopkin reports

If you’ve ever tried to flirt it up at a party or a club or maybe a construction site, you know it can be tough making yourself heard above the din. One solution is to go home and text your love interest. But a more immediate one is to shout. And that’s pretty much the approach male grasshoppers take when the roar of traffic threatens to drown out their mating calls. The results appear in the British Ecological Society journal Functional Ecology. [Ulrike Lampe et al., Staying tuned: grasshoppers from noisy roadside habitats produce courtship signals with elevated frequency components]

Lots of animals use sound to woo a potential partner. But what happens when an unnaturally noisy environment all but overwhelms such romantic entreaties?

To see how grasshoppers cope with vehicular clamor, researchers collected about 200 males, half from the scrub along the highway. Then they showed the lads a female and recorded the results. Turns out that, compared to males that lived someplace quiet, the roadside chirpers selectively boosted the bass notes in their love song, precisely the part that would have gotten lost during rush hour.

—Karen Hopkin

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

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