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Researchers study cricket courtship to understand sexy behavior in other animals

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

In many parts of the world, crickets' song is a part of the soundtrack of summer. British researchers have discovered that the way crickets rub their wings together to make that sound is kind of like a dating app for insects.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Tom Tregenza is a professor at the University of Exeter.

TOM TREGENZA: All the times when you hear insects singing in your garden or cicadas or grasshoppers or bush crickets, it's almost invariably the males that are singing. And they're almost invariably singing for one reason, which is to try to attract females.

MARTÍNEZ: Tregenza says studying cricket courtship is a way of understanding sexy-time behavior in other animals.

TREGENZA: The tail of the peacock is a classic example of a crazy male trait that doesn't seem to be much use for anything, but they've got it just to try to attract females. And we study crickets because their singing is kind of like an audio example of something like a peacock's tail.

FADEL: Tregenza and his colleagues have been watching insects in one meadow in Spain for years.

TREGENZA: We catch them. We stick a little tag on each one. And then we've got a network of 140 video cameras all over this field, and we observe them all the time. So it's kind of like Big Brother House but with crickets in it.

MARTÍNEZ: And he says millions of hours of video footage reveals that for crickets, it's all about one-upsmanship (ph).

TREGENZA: So males are competing with each other to try to get mating to the females.

FADEL: The male crickets sing and female crickets listen.

TREGENZA: The female's ears are actually on their legs. So not much use for, like, you know, listening for predators, and they don't use them for hunting or anything. They pretty much just use them for finding a mate.

MARTÍNEZ: You know, I've always wondered what makes a male cricket sexy. Tregenza...

FADEL: Why have you wondered that?

MARTÍNEZ: I just have. Tregenza says it's all about standing out from the crowd with louder, longer songs.

TREGENZA: And that kind of makes sense for females because a male that sings a lot has got the energy to do a lot of singing. And that suggests that he's a good male. You know, he's got genes that have allowed him to eat enough food to get himself into good condition and do a lot of singing.

FADEL: Male crickets, they found, also try to outperform each other. And that creates a virtual orchestra of sound. But the cricket chorus comes to a halt if a rival gets a little too close.

(SOUNDBITE OF RANDALL WOLFGANG AND ORPHEUS CHAMBER ORCHESTRA'S "OBOE CONCERTO IN C, K. 314 - CADENZA BY RANDALL WOLFGANG: 3. RONDO (ALLEGRETTO)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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