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I can dig that sound

August 26, 2022

Mole crickets (Gryllotalpa sp.) are insects that spend most of their lives underground in a system of tunnels. They have been described as the platypus of the insect world because of the many disparate parts to their bodies. A mole cricket is equipped with shovel-like front legs that it uses to quickly burrow through soil. Although a cricket the back legs are not designed to jump but to push earth aside. The shovels, head and thorax are ‘armour-plated’ (see picture above) to protect it underground. The abdomen is soft and ends with a pair of cerci, appendages that serve as sensory organs (pictured below right).

Most mole crickets are herbivores eating the roots of grasses and other plants. In some areas they are regarded as pests, such is the damage that they do to the roots of lawns. The male mole cricket does not fly. To get a mate it needs to signal a female mole cricket flying by with the hope of attracting its attention. It does this by rubbing its upper wings against the lower wings. The sound delivered is almost a pure tone.

To make the sound louder (and therefore make itself more attractive to any passing females) the male cricket constructs a specially designed tunnel. It is perfectly smooth inside and flared much in the way a loudspeaker or trumpet is. This shape maximises the efficiency with which soundwaves from the cricket are transferred to the air. The process is so efficient that on those summer nights when you hear insects chirping in your garden the mole cricket sound is by far the loudest, reaching over 90 decibels.

That loud night-time chorus I can dig which is exactly what the mole cricket had to do to get that sound.

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