Singing flies and DIY

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BMC Biology logoThe musical chirping of crickets will be a familiar sound to readers, but many other insects have their own songs too. In the laboratory stalwart Drosophila fruit fly, males “sing” to females during courtship by vibrating their wings to produce different sinusoidal patterns that may not seem very melodic to you or me, but – if appropriately tuned – are irresistible to female Drosophila. These songs have become something of a model for studies of both neural and genetic control of behaviour, largely because there are regular rhythms that can be (fairly) easily quantified – usually through manual annotation.

Benjamin Arthur and colleagues, in a paper just published in BMC Biology, have aimed to make a step change in this kind of quantification, by designing and building a test chamber for recording the songs in unprecedented detail – and a custom-made software package for analysing the songs is also provided by the authors. While following methods can sometimes be frustratingly difficult, this paper is clear and open throughout, with the additional material forming a comprehensive “how-to” guide for constructing and testing your own courtship chamber, including circuit board diagrams, laser cutter patterns, and a list of suppliers for sourcing the materials (you can find a link to all these additional files in the PDF, and they’re replicated on the authors’ website). In the same spirit, the analysis software is also open source and freely available. A truly repeatable experiment.