The sounds of silence: cessation of singing and song pausing are ultrasound-induced acoustic startle behaviors in the katydid Neoconocephalus ensiger (Orthoptera; Tettigoniidae)
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Previous studies of acoustic startle in insects have dealt with behavioral and/or neural mechanisms employed in evading aerially hawking, echolocating bats; however, insects also face terrestrial predators. Here we describe an acoustic startle response of the nocturnal katydid, Neoconocephalus ensiger. Stridulating males disturbed in the field perform obvious anti-predatory behaviors – cessation of singing, freezing, jumping, and evasive flight. Under controlled laboratory conditions we found that cessation of singing and song pausing are ultrasound-specific behaviors: when stimulated with pulsed ultrasound (20–100 kHz), but not audio-sound (<20 kHz), males cease mate calling or insert pauses in their song. A second factor influencing acoustic startle is the phase of stimulation: an acoustic startle response occurs only when the pulse of ultrasound arrives during the window of silence between stridulatory syllables. The average startle threshold and response latency was 70 ± 5 dB SPL and 34.2 ± 6.0 ms, respectively. N. ensiger is particularly useful for examining acoustic startle responses of non-flying insects because (1) its calling song is broadband and contains ultrasound, thus the possibility exists of confusion over the biological meaning of ultrasound, and (2) this species shows the classic bat-avoidance response while flying, so a direct comparison between two types of acoustic startle is possible within the same species.
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