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Prehistoric cricket love songs recreated for your listening pleasure

Throbbing Jurassic passion returns in boffin-mungous feat

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An international team of top boffins has quite literally left no stone unturned in its efforts to answer a highly unusual question: Just what did the love songs of the Jurassic era really sound like?

This is actually the mating music of a "primitive bush cricket", whose modern descendants are also known as katydids, which lived around 165 million years ago. Its "exceptionally detailed" fossilised remains were discovered by Chinese boffins from the Capital Normal University in Beijing and named Archaboilus musicus.

Naturally enough Jun-Jie Gu and Professor Dong Ren wanted to know just how their fossil bug would have sounded when alive. They contacted Dr Fernando Montealegre-Zapata and Professor Daniel Robert of Bristol uni here in the UK, who are "both experts in the biomechanics of singing and hearing in insects".

In a brace of shakes, having inspected the fossil's stridulating organs under an optical microscope, the Bristol experts were in action. We are told:

Following biomechanical principles that he discovered some years ago, Dr Montealegre-Z established that A musicus sang a tone pitched at 6.4kHz and that every bout of singing lasted 16 milliseconds. This turned out to be enough information to acoustically reconstruct the song itself, possibly the most ancient known musical song documented to date.

Dr Montealegre-Zapata adds:

“Using a low-pitched song, A musicus was acoustically adapted to long-distance communication in a lightly cluttered environment, such as a Jurassic forest ...

“This Jurassic bushcricket thus sheds light on the potential auditory capacity of other animals, and helps us learn a little more about the ambiance of a world long gone. It also suggests the evolutionary mechanisms that drove modern bushcrickets to develop ultrasonic signals for sexual pairing and for avoiding an increasingly relevant echolocating predator, but that only happened 100 million years later, possibly with the appearance of bats.”

Full boffinry detail is available in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. ®

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