Sexual dimorphism in auditory mechanics: tympanal vibrations of cicada orni

Sueur, J. and Windmill, J.F.C. and Robert, D. (2008) Sexual dimorphism in auditory mechanics: tympanal vibrations of cicada orni. Journal of Experimental Biology, 211. pp. 2379-2387. ISSN 0022-0949

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In cicadas, the tympanum is anatomically intricate and employs complex vibrations as a mechanism for auditory frequency analysis. Using microscanning laser Doppler vibrometry, the tympanal mechanics of Cicada orni can be characterized in controlled acoustical conditions. The tympanum of C. orni moves following a simple drum-like motion, rather than the travelling wave found in a previous study of Cicadatra atra. There is a clear sexual dimorphism in the tympanal mechanics. The large male tympanum is unexpectedly insensitive to the dominant frequency of its own calling song, possibly a reflection of its dual purpose as a sound emitter and receiver. The small female tympanum appears to be mechanically sensitive to the dominant frequency of the male calling song and to high-frequency sound, a capacity never suspected before in these insects. This sexual dimorphism probably results from a set of selective pressures acting in divergent directions, which are linked to the different role of the sexes in sound reception and production. These discoveries serve to indicate that there is far more to be learnt about the development of the cicada ear, its biomechanics and evolution, and the cicada's acoustic behaviour.