At 80 flutters per second, the male red-capped manakin's wings can beat faster than a hummingbird's. But rather than hovering for a drink, manakins generate finger-snap clicks to entice females. Kimberly Bostwick of Cornell University captured the frenetic beating with 1,000-frame-per-second cameras. The footage shows a surprising diversity in how wings generate sounds: the white-collared manakin claps its wings behind its back, but the redcapped manakin rubs its wing feathers against its tail. “When we think of sexual selection traits such as these, we think of mostly superficial changes such as a change in feather color,” Bostwick says. Her findings instead reveal that the wing sounds of male courtship have led to extreme body diversification in manakin bones, muscles and feathers. Bostwick is one of several investigators featured in PBS's Nature: Deep Jungle, a three-part miniseries illustrating how researchers are relying on new technology to explore the rain forest. It airs April 17 and 24 and May 1.
This article was originally published with the title "Wings with a Snap" in Scientific American 292, 5, 34 (May 2005)