Did You Hear That

If you want to be an Arachnologist, you may only earn a pittance, but insects are fascinating because they are resilient, and it is fun to observe anything that oozes slime.  You will find that where there is one, there will probably be hundreds or even thousands of them.  Arthropods which includes such familiar forms as lobsters, crabs, spiders, mites, insects, centipedes, and millipedes make up about 75% of all animals on Earth and by mounting the comb on one external body part and the sharp edge on the other, they can stridulate by rubbing the two hard parts together producing a shrill, grating sound.  A sharp edge or “scraper” is located on the upper surface of the lower wing and is rubbed against a row of bumps known as the “file” on the underside of the upper wing.  Some insects like fireflies are silent dismal disappointments, as they never make a sound.  Insects can be colorful and Hernándo Cortés learned that the vibrant hue of scarlet in Aztec fabrics was made from the crushed-up cochineal insect.

On a summer day, while a soft breeze rustles quietly through the trees, you can hear the high-pitched hum of crickets, katydids, grasshoppers, and cicadas filling the air.  Bumblebees will buzz through flower gardens, while grasshoppers bounce and crickets chirp.  Summertime brings all of nature’s musically inclined creatures out to play a symphony every day.  The best time to hear late summer insects is after dark, when katydids (large green grasshoppers) take center stage.  These wonderful musicians chirp, click, zip, rattle, and lisp from nature, and sometimes they find their way inside our homes.  It is a joy to behold these choruses of males, serenading the females of their own species with their purposeful buzzing, whirring, chirping, and sawing.  Insect noises also transmit information about species identity, sex, and location.  You may not think of the buzz and whine of insects as musical, but in Aesop’s fable, a grasshopper plays the fiddle in the summer while the ant works.

Insects have the ability to produce sounds, but they don’t have ears, however they are sensitive to vibrations.  Classical music greats like Beethoven, Handel, Chopin, and Schubert have included insects in their works.  ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov is perhaps the most recognizable of these classical works.  Probably the most notable musical group to have taken an insect name is the Beatles and they took this name because they idolized Buddy Holly and the Crickets.  A few of the more popular artists that have recorded insect songs are AC/DC ‘Fly on the Wall’, Aerosmith ‘Joanie’s Butterfly’, Alice Cooper ‘Halo of Flies’, the Bee Gees ‘Butterfly’, Blondie ‘Dragonfly’, Bob Dylan ‘Day of the Locusts’, Cher ‘Elusive Butterfly’, the Cure ‘Caterpillar’, the Dave Matthews Band ‘Ants Marching’, the Doobie Brothers ‘Beehive State’, the Doors ‘The Wasp [Texas Radio and the Big Beat]’, Genesis ‘Cuckoo Cocoon’, Heart ‘Dog and Butterfly’, the Hollies ‘Butterfly’, James Brown ‘I Got Ants in My Pants’, Jethro Tull ‘Moths’, Jimi Hendrix ‘Hornet’s Nest’, Kansas ‘Gnat Attack’, the Kinks ‘Cricket’, Mariah Carey ‘Butterfly’, Paul McCartney ‘Little Lamb Dragonfly’, Pearl Jam ‘Red Mosquito’, the Rolling Stones ‘King Bee’, Smashing Pumpkins ‘Bullet with Butterfly Wings’, Sound Garden ‘Drawing Flies’, Stevie Ray Vaughan ‘Honey Bee’, and Van Halen ‘Spanish Fly’.

A careful listener could match the buzz of a fly to a key on the piano.  That is exactly what Robert Hooke, the natural philosopher did in the 17th century, as he was able to tell how many strokes a fly makes with her wings (those flies that hum in their flying) by the note that it answers to in music during their flying.  Hooke designed and built a wheel with regular teeth marks around its edge. As the wheel spun, the teeth struck a card, making a noise.  The faster the speed of the wheel, the higher the frequency of the teeth hitting the card.  Every time a fly beats its wings, it makes a sound.  But, if it beats its wings many times a second, those combined beats turn into a hum.  The faster the wings are beaten, the higher the hum.  If Robert Hooke’s wheel made the same note as the hum of a fly, then the frequency of the fly’s wings could be deduced.

The Beatles song ‘Sun King’ is a beautiful melody that illustrates nocturnal peace and the newly born day begins with the chirping sound of a cricket.  In 1992, Tom Waits was listening to a celestial, eerie recording of crickets that was radically slowed down and he thought it sounded like the Vienna Boys Choir.  The song was called ‘Ballad of the Twisted Hair’, off of the album Medicine Songs by David Carson & the Little Wolf Band.  Jim Wilson recorded crickets in his back yard, and he brought it into the studio and went ahead and lowered the pitch and lowered the pitch and lowered the pitch, until they sounded like a well-trained church choir.  Opera singer Bonnie Jo Hunt was approached by Robbie Robertson and Jim Wilson to attach some human accompaniment to the stunning chorus Wilson had discovered, but the original composition only had crickets and it was called ‘God’s Chorus’.

The Chinese kept crickets in a box as pets for more than 3,200 years.  Cricket fighting was started by Tang Dynasty emperors more than 1,000 years ago.  One would think that depression would set in from being cooped up all the time, that is if crickets do have feelings.  Master Fang thought that cricket fighting was a spiritual activity and he felt that it was the cricket trainer could only cultivate virtue in the insects by showing them love and affection.  Only the males fight, but before the fight they are given the company of a girl cricket to spend the night with, which helps them relax.  The fighting lasts just a few seconds and winner and losers are determined by the cricket who starts to run away or moves backwards from the battle, or their downfall is determined if they stop chirping.

The Wet Tropics of Queensland in Australia is the home of the King Crickets which roam the forest floor at night feeding on scraps of decaying matter and killing small creatures with their powerful jaws.  They mostly hide during the day from predators who can detect their smell.  In Southeast Asia, deep-fried crickets are a common snack food and deep-fried grasshoppers are a favorite in Nigeria when spiced with powdered chili, but you might need something to wash them down with.  In Cambodia and Laos cricket farming is the informal food sector for wild caught crickets and this becomes a market for edible insects.  This has become a very long post and I got zilch left, which is probably a good thing.

Written for Sheryl’s Daily Word Prompt – Pittance, for the Daily Spur prompt – Depression, for FOWC with Fandango – Slime, for June Writing Prompts – Dismal disappointments, for Ragtag Community – Zilch, for Di’s Three Things Challenge prompt words – Human Vibrant Company, for Word of the Day Challenge Prompt – Newly and for Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie Wordle #194 hosted by Yves – Wet Downfall Beautiful Smell Girl Wash Resilient Stridulate Virtue Informal Attach Backwards.

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