Jurassic cricket's chirp comes alive after 165 million years

Fossils are capable of giving up incredible secrets — the color of a feather, the sheen of a wing and now the sound of a chirp. A chirp doesn't sound like much but considering it last sounded 165 million years ago, it's music to scientist's ears.

How do you recreate a chirp?

Scientists from the U.S. and China recently discovered a fossil of a prehistoric insect so detailed, the minute structures on their wings were still visible. They named the species Archaboilus musicus.

Insects produce their music with their wings…with a bow-like structure called the "plectrum" on one wing dragging across a microscopic comb structure on the other, much like one would play a violin. With these structures still visible on the fossilized wings it gave clues on how they Jurassic cricket may have chirped. This is how that comb structure looks under a microscope:


Image credit: PNAS

Insect expert Dr. Fernando Montealegre Zapata, from the University of Bristol, studies sound and communication in living insects by observing their body structure. When hearing of the fossil, according to the BBC his first thought was: "Could we reproduce the sounds [this insect made] from that fossil?"

When looking at the Jurassic cricket under a microscope, he was able to take measurements of their sound making structures and then compared that to the living species. He found the Jurassic cricket had a musical tone, but lower than today's cricket species.

Dr. Zapata told the BBC the low, pure tone would have been able to penetrate a noisy, nighttime environment. The constant tone emitted by the nocturnal A. musicus, was useful for attracting a mate but not so noisy as to attract predators.

The finding of the cricket's chirp so early in the history of their species was surprising. Prof Mike Ritchie from the University of St Andrews, told BBC Nature: "People thought singing in crickets probably evolved later from a startle reflex, But this suggests that [very early on] they were already…producing these lovely, pure tones to compete for a mate."

It seems even the humble cricket's song is useful for decoding what life was like in the Jurassic environment! Have a listen!

Pictured: "Some of the closest modern analogs of the ancient katydid known as Archaboilus musicus are in the Cyphoderris insect family. This male specimen of the species Cyphoderris monstrosa was collected in Douglas County, Oregon." (Image credit: T.J. Walker / Univ. of Fla., via Cosmic Log)

The international team report their findings in the journal PNAS.

Via BBC Nature and New Scientist

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