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Forest love song of the Jurassic cricket

February 07, 2012

LONDON: A love song that carried on the wind through the ancient forests of the late Jurassic era has been reconstructed by scientists in Britain.

Researchers pieced together the mating call of the long-gone creature, a distant relative of the modern bush cricket, from fossilised remains unearthed in Mongolia.

The insect's body and wings were preserved in such detail that specialists in bioacoustics at Bristol University could measure the parts used to produce mating calls and recreate the sounds.

The cricket, Archaboilus musicus, lived 165m years ago, when much of north-west China was a sparse forest of coniferous evergreens and giant ferns.

"This is one of the oldest mating calls ever reconstructed from a fossil," lead researcher Fernando Montealegre Zapata said. The insect was large compared with many modern crickets, growing to 12cm with 7cm-long wings. The scientists compared the insect's song-making equipment with that of 59 living cricket species, whose mating calls have all been documented.

Taking this information into account, they calculated that the ancient cricket produced chirps lasting 16 milliseconds. The song was a repetition of single notes, with a frequency of around 6.4 kilohertz. The top range of human hearing is around 20 kilohertz. The call was well-suited to life on the forest floor, where the notes would carry to females far away.

Further studies of the insects might give scientists some hints why the mating calls of many modern crickets have much higher frequencies, in the ultrasonic range beyond human hearing. Today, all similar species that use musical calls are nocturnal. Daniel Robert, a co-author on the paper, said: "Using a single tone, the male's call carries further, and therefore is likely to serenade more females."

By arrangement with the Guardian