Every fossil is a time capsule with its own story to tell—or sing. Now paleontologists have listened as never before, recreating an insect song that has not been heard in 165 million years.
Working in northeastern China in a fossil-rich region called the Jiulongshan Formation, Beijing-based paleontologists discovered an exquisite set of insect wings preserved in stone. Microscopic analysis showed they were from a previously unknown species of archaic katydid, a cricket-like creature. Most exciting, the wings had survived the grind of time, so the special structures the presumably male katydid used to sing could still be seen. The researchers named it Archaboilus musicus in tribute to its acoustic talents.
Much like modern katydids, this Jurassic species had two pairs of wings, and even though the fossil insect’s legs were not found, comparisons with closely related katydids hint that it crawled on the ground rather than fly. The male called out to potential mates by rubbing a toothed vein on the edge of one forewing against a sharp-edged scraper under the opposite forewing.
Once the paleontologists and entomologists squared away the anatomy, they turned to Fernando Montealegre-Zapata, an expert on biological sounds at the University of Lincoln in England, who worked to reconstruct the katydid’s song. Studying the shape and size of the wings—including the spacing of the rasplike teeth along the wing edge—and comparing those structures with those of modern katydids, Montealegre-Zapata programmed a computer to produce the most likely sound that the four-inch-long insect could have made. The result, a landmark in paleoacoustics, is the most ancient call ever recreated.
Written By: Brian Switekcontinue to source article at smithsonianmag.com