Friday, August 19, 2011

Cricket Love

So I was listening to npr (big shock there) the other day and I got stuck--you know, stuck in the car because you don't want to stop listening to what's playing.

Marlene Zuk (caption later added)
It was with Marlene Zuk, a professor of biology from UC Riverside.  She's just come out with a new fanch-schmancy book (hence the npr interview) and it's called Sex On Six Legs.

I can't help it.  My nerdy little brain just went POP when I heard that there was a book out there talking specifically about the kinky activities of insects.  It combines two things I am naturally fascinated by:  weird ass natural science and sex.  What more could I want?  That meeting I was going to could wait another few minutes, right?  Who needs to talk about the future of my company's finances when there is a discussion going on about cricket sex?  Not I, said the fly.*  Wait, did I tell you I'm one of nine people who founded a theatre company?  I didn't?  Next blog post.

It's My Party And I'll Write About Insect Sex If I Want To

Anyway, fun fact about Marlene Zuk that I just learned:  she got her Ph.D the year I was born.  Another fun fact:  my birthday is next Friday (if you don't buy me a present then I will make this blog invisible to you).  I was planning on just taking the week off from the blog this time around since my scheduled Tuesday posts have been thrown out of wack now.  But, I figured.  Hey.  If  it's my birthday week then this means I get to write about crickets having sex.  Because that's what I do with my free time.  Don't judge.

So here's the story.  Field Crickets in Hawaii were introduced back in 1877.   From what I've learned, whenever I see the words "introduced" alongside a year in the 1800s it usually means White People Ships Crawling With Invasive Species scraping up onto the other beaches of the world.

For example...
A Dramatic Representation of the arrival of Invasive Diseases to The Bahamas
But, however it happened, these Austrailian field crickets (aka Teleogryllus oceanicus because that's easier to say) are now living and chirping away on Kauai island.  These are the bug(ger)s that Dr. Zuk was talking up to Dave Davies.
If you didn't already know, that chirping you hear on those classic summer nights are male crickets singing their hearts out (or wings, depending on how you look at it) to attract lady crickets.  Lady crickets are all about them nice vibrations (hey hey) and will go after the one with the best audio display. Same old story, those who breed get to pass on genes and those who don't get to become queer bloggers who work in theatre.  I mean, what?

Anyway, life would be fab as a male cricket, singing your love songs to your ladies on Kuai.  Except for the fact that there's just one hitch.
Someone else is listening.

No Really, This Is Creepy.

You know the classic story of a stalker-fan of someone's music gets too close and pulls a Mercy on you? Well, it turns out Mr. Singing Field Cricket has got one fan he doesn't want.  They're called the Ormia ochracea.  It's a parasitic fly (don't you get a little inner cringe every time you read "parasitic" in a sentence?).   According to Dr. Zuk, the female flucan "hear the song as well or better than a female cricket," and will land on the cricket, laying her eggs on and around the body of the guy.  The larvae then burrow and live off of the cricket's tissue for a week or so and then...

"They burst out like the movie Alien."

You know, Dr. Zuk.  I like it when the movie Alien is not reinforced as a reality in the natural world.  

Learning Dating Techniques From Crickets

The best part about this story is that around 2003 something changed.  A mutation occured in the male cricket population:  some male crickets are not able to sing.  They just... are tone deaf (re: don't rub their wings).  But, of course, if they don't sing how do they get to pass on their genes?  And if they don't pass on their genes, then how has this mutation continued to grow?

Turns out, insects are more shrewd than I am.  These silent males literally hang out around the dude who's singing, waiting for the females to literally mistake them for him.  It's like sitting around at a campfire, while Grace Slick is singing folk songs, meanwhile you're Yoko Ono off to the side listening and some hot-hottie comes up to you and is like "Hey.  I love your voice.  C'mon.  Let's get out of here."

And what are you going to do to right this moral wrong?  Nothing.  Nothing at all.  Because you're a cricket.  And you just want to live long enough to have sex and not get eaten by a parasitic fly out to plant her babies in your body.

I think we can all learn from the Silent Field Cricket.  I am now going to try and hang around Adele's next concert off to the side and whenever some cute-cutie walks by I'll be like "That's me singing" and all will be solved.  Right?


*But, unfortunately Me, said the B.  Don't worry, theatre kids.  I went to the meeting and was on time.  But oh you BETCHA I listened to the feed on the npr website later on that evening.  Now you can listen too.

EDITED TO ADD:  Just FYI, I actually like Yoko Ono.  She's badass and has put up with a lot of crap over the years.  I just prefer Grace Slick when it comes to vocal power.   

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