Newly discovered insect 'Supersonus' hits animal kingdom's highest-pitch love call

June 6, 2014
Newly discovered insect 'Supersonus' hits animal kingdom's highest-pitch love call
Female Supersonus 

( —In the rainforests of South America, scientists have discovered a new genus and three new species of insect with the highest ultrasonic calling songs ever recorded in the animal kingdom.

Katydids (or bushcrickets) are insects known for their acoustic communication, with the male producing sound by rubbing its wings together (stridulation) to attract distant females for mating.

Scientists from the universities of Lincoln, Strathclyde and Toronto located a with three of katydid in the rainforests of Colombia and Ecuador. These insects were found to produce the highest ultrasonic calling songs known in nature, with males reaching 150 kHz. The calling frequencies used by most katydids range between 5 kHz and 30 kHz. The nominal human hearing range ends at around 20 kHz. For this reason, the new genus has been named Supersonus.

Dr Fernando Montealegre-Z, from the School of Life Sciences, University of Lincoln, UK, said: "To call distant females, male katydids produce songs by 'stridulation' where one wing (the scraper) rubs against a row of 'teeth' on the other wing. The scraper is next to a vibrating drum that acts like a speaker. The forewings and drums are unusually reduced in size in the Supersonus species, yet they still manage to be highly ultrasonic and very loud.

"Using a combination of state-of-the-art technologies, we found that Supersonus creates a 'closed box' with its right wing in order to radiate sound. Human-made loud speakers also use this system to radiate sound. Large speakers radiate low frequencies, while small speakers emit high frequencies. So, these reduced wings are responsible for tuning their calling songs at such high frequencies."

These insects have lost the ability of flight due to their reduced wing size, so the adoption of extreme ultrasonic frequencies might play a role in avoiding predators, such as bats. Bats can detect their prey's movements using echolocation but can also eavesdrop and detect the calls of singing animals like katydids and frogs. Rainforest katydids have learned to avoid bats by reducing the time spent singing and by evolving an ear that can detect the ultrasonic echolocation calls of the bats. Although some bats can detect 150 kHz, by singing at extreme ultrasonic frequencies, the katydid calls degrade faster with distance so that a flying bat will find it harder to hear the signal.

Dr James Windmill, from the Centre of Ultrasonic Engineering, University of Strathclyde, added: "These insects can produce, and hear, loud ultrasonic calls in air. Understanding how nature's systems do this can give us inspiration for our engineered ultrasonics."

The paper 'Shrinking wings for ultrasonic pitch production: hyper intense ultra-short-wavelength calls in a new genus of neotropical katydids (Orthoptera: Tettigoniidae)' has been published in the international journal PLOS ONE. The research was supported by a grant from the National Geographic Society Global Exploration Fund, a regional grant program for residents of Northern Europe.

"We are delighted that the National Geographic Society's research grant has made it possible for the team to make new scientific advances in the study of bushcrickets. Projects like this give us a better understanding of the insect world," said Joakim Mornefält, Executive Director of the National Geographic Society Global Exploration Fund Northern Europe.

Explore further: Fossil cricket: Jurassic love song reconstructed

More information: Sarria-S FA, Morris GK, Windmill JFC, Jackson J, Montealegre-Z F (2014) "Shrinking Wings for Ultrasonic Pitch Production: Hyperintense Ultra-Short-Wavelength Calls in a New Genus of Neotropical Katydids (Orthoptera: Tettigoniidae)." PLoS ONE 9(6): e98708. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0098708

Related Stories

Fossil cricket: Jurassic love song reconstructed

February 6, 2012

Some 165 million years ago, the world was host to a diversity of sounds. Primitive bushcrickets and croaking amphibians were among the first animals to produce loud sounds by stridulation (rubbing certain body parts together). ...

Ultrasonic sounds of the rainforest

April 5, 2013

Research aimed at developing ultrasonic microphones with insect-like sensitivity is to continue in the rainforests of Colombia and Ecuador.

Large moths need to hear better

August 19, 2013

Bats orient themselves through echolocation, and they find their prey by emitting calls and then process the echoes reflected back to them from the prey. Small insects reflect small echo signals, and large insects reflect ...

Communicating at a katydid's jungle cocktail party

December 4, 2013

As darkness descends upon the tropical rainforests of Malaysia, male chirping katydids of the Mecopoda complex are just getting warmed up for their usual nightly concerts to woo the females. These nocturnal suitors are favoured ...

Recommended for you

Study finds 'rudimentary' empathy in macaques

December 1, 2015

(—A pair of researchers with Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and Université Lyon, in France has conducted a study that has shown that macaques have at least some degree of empathy towards their fellow ...

Scientists overcome key CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing hurdle

December 1, 2015

Researchers at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT have engineered changes to the revolutionary CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing system that significantly cut down on "off-target" ...

Which came first—the sponge or the comb jelly?

December 1, 2015

Bristol study reaffirms classical view of early animal evolution. Whether sponges or comb jellies (also known as sea gooseberries) represent the oldest extant animal phylum is of crucial importance to our understanding of ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.