Have you been missing your school’s band this summer? The blare of trumpets and bang of drums? The crash of cymbals? The pleasant sensation of music in your ears? Well, your summer vacation does have a soundtrack. It plays in your backyard every night, if you care to listen.
When you lay in bed, you can hear the music of bugs.
Yes … bugs. Insects.
Quite a few bugs make noise at night and in the evening. They are calling to each other and defending their territories. This is your backyard bug band. They even have “instruments.”
It all comes down to how their bodies are made.
Take the cricket with its constant chirp. That’s thanks to its wings. The bottom surface of the upper wing has teeth-like ridges, and the upper part of the lower wing has a rough, sandpaper-like surface. Crickets rub these two together. The result is a part of your bug band, like the washboard in a jug band.
Let’s make this bug band even more interesting. Why not tune into the scrapings of the grasshopper? This insect has one rough hind leg, which acts like a bow and vibrates the hard forewing of the bug. The result almost sounds like singing. You might love a singer for your band, but only male grasshoppers sing. Thankfully grasshoppers are plentiful, so you’ll have many singers in your band.
Katydids are another kind of insect with a part to play. There’s no complicated instruments here: They simply rub their forewings together. The sharp edge of the right wing rubs along a rough, file-like edge of the left. It’s another singing bug, but with both female and male katydids singing along. Even better for your band!
And every band needs a beat. Cue the click beetle and the cicada. As their name implies, click beetles click. The popping noise can be drum for your buggy band. If a click beetle is threatened or somehow lands on its back, it curls up its body and quickly straightens back out. This rockets the insect into the air, produces a click, and allows the beetle to twist its body and land on its feet. It’s a dramatic feat, which could certainly add some spice to your evening listening.
Same goes for the cicada. Cicadas don’t typically make sounds at night. But if they are threatened or attacked, they will rub their front wings together. The sound doesn’t come from rubbing their legs, like many people think. Cicadas also have an organ called a tymbal. The organ has ribs, and cicadas can buckle each rib one after another. The result is a clicking noise. When it happens quickly enough, it can even sound like buzzing.
So much variety for your bug band. So, if you’re missing your school’s band this summer, remember there is a simple remedy. Just play outside in the evening or settle yourself into bed. If you can open your window a crack, you should be able to listen to the music of your backyard bug band.
How do insects hear?
Sound is created by vibrations. Many bugs have what is termed the tympanal organ, which is a membrane stretched like a drum skin over an air sac. Sensitive organs at the bottom of the air sac translate the vibrations from the ‘drum skin’ into sound. The tympanal organs can be found on legs, abdomen or antennae of insects.
Antennae: appendices used for sensing in bugs.
Vibration: back and forth motion of particles.