Scientists recreate the song of a long-lost insect to help find it

After 150 years of sitting silently in a museum, a strange specimen has once again sung its song. Scientists have digitally recreated the sound of a long-extinct insect species, unknown since 1869, by creating 3D scans of its wings. The specifics of the melody could help find living specimens in the wild – if any remain.

Prophalangopsis obscura is a species of katydid, a grasshopper-like insect, but not much is known about it as only one specimen has been collected. The solitary holotype, a 10 cm long (4 inch) male, was recovered somewhere in India in the mid-19th century, before being donated to the Natural History Museum in London where it was scientifically described for the first time in 1869.

And it hasn’t been seen since, despite the best efforts of scientists. The closest match may come from a paper 2009 describing two female katydids found in Tibet that look suspiciously like solo P. obscura specimen, but due to sex differences it is impossible to tell whether they belong to the same species or to a closely related species.

Now a team of scientists has found a unique way to help research. Like their cricket relatives, katydids are known to rub their wings or legs together to make noise that attracts mates. The researchers therefore scanned the wings of the specimen, created 3D images of their surface structure and determined their resonant frequency.

From there, they were able to determine that it produces a clean-toned song, around a frequency of 4.7 kHz. They then digitally reproduced the insect’s song. Listen below:

Scientists recreate the song of a long-lost insect

It may sound like any cricket you expect to hear on a hot summer night, but from this song scientists can actually deduce a lot of information about where the insect might be. found, if any still exist in the wild.

The sound is a low tone, which helps carry it for a long distance. This is great for finding mates, but also for attracting predators like bats. The fact that this species is one of the few to have survived relatively unchanged since the Jurassic era indicates that it did not have to evolve its defenses against bats.

“Comparing this species to modern relatives is interesting because it has large wings, suggesting it is capable of long flight, and sings a deep song that travels long distances,” said co-author Ed Baker. of the study. “With its habit of living in the open, these characteristics should make it an ideal target for bats as it is easier to detect. Its survival since the Jurassic suggests that it currently lives in a bat-free environment. mice that feed on insects in free flight.

As such, the team suggests focusing future research on regions of northern India and Tibet that are too cold for bats. And now that we better understand what P. obscura It might sound like the researchers say it might be a good idea to set up recording equipment to try to listen in on these calls, which could lead to the rediscovery of the species.

The research was published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Source: Natural History Museum