How Do Crickets Flirt?

Allow me to address a question that has likely bothered you for years: how do crickets flirt? Well it turns out their strategy might not be all that different from humans… the answer: body contact! The only difference is that crickets use their antennae, while humans do not have this privilege.

I found that female house crickets (Acheta domestica) spent significantly more time with their antennae in contact with the body of males compared to females. This contact serves a greater purpose, though, aside from “showing interest”. Tregenza & Wedell (1997) found that male and female field crickets have differing levels of specific chemicals in their cuticle (hard exterior). House crickets use their chemoreceptive antennae to pick up on these differences, in order to determine whether they are in the presence of a male or female. For males, once they determine the sex of their company, they will respond accordingly. If males are with another male, they will show aggression, and if they are with a female, they will court the female by chirping (Murakami & Itoh 2003).

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A female house cricket, identified by her long ovipositor, approaches her male company (video credit: Maddy Kerr; gif created using GIPHY).

I also found that female house crickets show significantly reduced antennal movement in cool temperatures (2-3.2℃), compared to ambient (18.4-22℃) and warm (34.8-37.2℃) temperatures.

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Female house crickets showed significantly reduced antennal flicking in cool temperatures, compared to ambient and warm conditions.

The reduced activity in cooler temperatures can be explained by a lowered metabolic rate. Crickets are ectothermic, meaning that the temperature of their environment directly affects their metabolic rate. Thus, in cold temperatures, crickets have limited energy, and the muscles that control antennal movement are have restricted mobility. With reduced antennal mobility, females may have a harder time distinguishing males from females, and could be less likely to engage in mating behavior.

However, Ryan & Sakaluk (2009) found that female decorated crickets mounted males even when their antennae were removed. This could mean that female crickets default to mating behavior, even without registering the sex of their conspecific. Perhaps cold temperatures may not have such a drastic effect on cricket mating after all!

In the following youtube video, you can observe a male “stridulating” (chirping) for the female by rubbing his wings together, which attracts the female, who then makes antennal contact.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JWUlLQQo810

Learn more about cuticular chemicals and antennectomized crickets in the journal articles referenced below.

References:

Murakami, S. & M.T. Itoh. 2003. Removal of both antennae influences the courtship and aggressive behaviors in male crickets. Developmental Neurobiology 57(1):110-118.

Ryan, K.M. & S.K. Sakaluk. 2009. Dulling the senses: the role of the antennae in mate recognition, copulation and mate guarding in decorated crickets. Animal Behaviour 77(5):1345-1350.

Tregenza, T. & N. Wedell. 1997. Definitive evidence for cuticular pheromones in a cricket. Animal Behaviour 54(4):979-984.

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