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Scientists recreate the song of a cricket-like insect that hasn’t been seen in 150 years

ZME Science

It's supposed to sound like its ancestors from the Jurassic.

By Tibi Puiu

Although tiny, some of the noisiest inhabitants of Earth are, in fact, insects. Whether it’s the hum of a bee, the buzz of a fly, or the chirping of a cricket, there’s really no escaping their constant, noisy chatter. Humans are so used to these sounds that most of the time we just ignore them, but here’s an interesting thought: did they always sound like this?

Insects first appeared around the same time as the earliest land plants around 480 million years ago. In no time, they came to dominate the planet. Even today, it is estimated that around 75% of the over 8 million different species of life on Earth are insects, most of which remain to be discovered.

Some of the noisiest insects are thought to belong to an ancient family called Prophalangopsidae, which scientists know about from fossils from the Jurassic period. They’re related to modern crickets and katydids, but there are only eight modern descendants that we know of.

One of them is Prophalangopsis obscura, an insect first described in 1869 by British naturalist Francis Walker. That was also the last time anyone has seen it, despite biologists’ best efforts to track it down. Many still have hope they’ll find one in India, its supposed habitat.

The resulting song has a low pitch — and that’s a pretty important hint concerning its environment. Insects with these song frequencies tend to live in cold areas, which are avoided by bats, a major insect predator. In light of this, northern India and Tibet could be the most suitable location for these insects to live in and the first places biologists should look for them in their quest to rediscover this long-lost species. For instance, recording equipment could be set up in various promising locations which would listen for a match.


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