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Call preferences of female N. ensiger katydids

Jan. 27, 2016

Neoconcephalus ensigner

A male N. ensiger produces its call by rubbing its forewings together. (Image source: B. Woo,, used with permission)

In a recent study published in the Journal of Insect Behavior, the Schul lab reports on the call preferences of females from the katydid species N. ensiger.

The call of male N. ensiger katydids consists of one 35 millisecond-long note rhythmically repeated after roughly 40 milliseconds of silence. In the study, the researchers created a series of synthetic calls that differed from the natural call in very specific ways. They then tested female katydids’ call preferences by placing them on a spherical “treadmill” and tracking the speed and accuracy of their responses to both the natural and synthetic calls.

“Basically, we asked, what is the core thing about the calls that females recognize as conspecific or, in other words, what makes the call attractive to females, and how much can we vary it,” explains Schul.

The researchers found that females pay attention only to the note length and not the length of interval between the notes.

“This represents the fourth derived call recognition mechanism known in this genus, which fits the pattern we are seeing. There are four male call types in this genus, and females recognize these call types in different ways,” says Schul.

The finding, he says, adds to a growing body of evidence of non-parallel coevolution of communication systems in Neoconcephalus katydids.

Sarah Bush, associate teaching professor of biological sciences, is a coauthor of the report.

Read the study: Kong, X.-L., Peck, A.S., Bush, S.L., Schul, J. (2015) The diversity of call recognition: selective phonotaxis in Neoconcephalus ensiger. Journal of Insect Behavior 28:651-663.

Related research strengths:
Behavior, Ecology, Evolution