Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Cologne Critical in Cricket Courtship

By Magdeline Lum

Dominant crickets sing to attract mates, but if they lose a battle and become subordinate they fall silent and rely on body odour.

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A male cricket heralds nightfall with his love song to any female cricket nearby who will listen. His skin, or cuticle, glistens in the moonlight with a layer of fatty acids preventing water loss.

As he is about to reach his crescendo, another face appears in front of his, but unfortunately it is not the girl of his dreams. It belongs to the face of another male challenging him to a fight.

Male–male aggressive behaviour is common throughout the animal kingdom, and in many species the dominant male will display a badge of honour. It is a message to other males as a signal of aggressiveness or a sign of resource holdings to minimise conflict.

In birds it may be exotic plumage, but crickets do not have a plumage to exhibit grandiosely. The cricket’s badge of honour is the song it sings to attract females, but it has been discovered that this may not be the only thing used to woo female crickets.

Dr Melissa Thomas and Prof Leigh Simmons from the University of Western Australia’s Centre for Evolutionary Biology found that a dominant male Australian field cricket, Teleogryllus

oceanicus, changes the chemical make-up of fatty acids (cuticular hydrocarbons) on its exoskeleton to resemble the chemical composition of the cuticular hydrocarbons of a subordinate cricket if its social status declines.

These cuticular hydrocarbons are made of...

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