Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Lobsters Play Biological Violins

Date:
May 11, 2001
Source:
Duke University
Summary:
A Duke University graduate student has discovered that spiny lobsters make sound using the biological equivalent of a violin - the first time such a mechanism has been found in nature. "Lots of people have tried to explain how these lobsters make sounds, and most of them were wrong," said Sheila Patek, whose research is reported in the May 10 issue of Nature. "We've never seen this before."

DURHAM, N.C. -- A Duke University graduate student has discovered that spiny lobsters make sound using the biological equivalent of a violin - the first time such a mechanism has been found in nature.

"Lots of people have tried to explain how these lobsters make sounds, and most of them were wrong," said Sheila Patek, whose research is reported in the May 10 issue of Nature. "We've never seen this before."

Using an underwater microphone and tiny sensors attached to the lobster's antennal muscles, Patek showed that when a lobster moves its antennae in a certain way, a nubbin of tissue called a plectrum rubs over a file near its eyes, creating frictional pulses of sound. Unlike crickets and other animals that produce sound by scraping a hard "pick" over a ridged "file," a lobster's plectrum is made of soft tissue, and the file's surface is macroscopically smooth. So, although the sound they produce is hardly musical - it resembles a cross between a stick dragged across a washboard and a moist finger rubbed on a balloon - the underlying mechanism is similar to a violinist drawing a bow across the strings of her instrument.

Since lobsters cannot hear except at very close range, the sounds they make are probably not used to communicate with each other, Patek said. Instead, she said the sounds serve as a defense against predators, which may be startled long enough for the lobster to escape.

"If you were reaching down to pick up a sandwich, and it squeaked, you might pause," Patek explained.

Sound-based defense mechanisms are relatively common in nature, Patek said, but the lobster's is unusual from an evolutionary as well as a structural standpoint. Not all lobsters are noisy, only certain species in the Palinuridae, or spiny lobster, family. These lobsters bear little resemblance to the docile creatures found in supermarket tanks; aside from their mottled coloring, their most striking characteristic is a pair of long, stiff, spine-encrusted antennae, and several faded scratches on Patek's arms bear witness to the antennae's effectiveness as defensive tools.

During the molting period, however, the spiny lobsters' antennae and shell are too soft to protect them against predators. Instead, the lobsters must rely on scare tactics - sound - to drive predators like sharks, grouper, and triggerfish away. A sound-producing mechanism that relied upon hard surfaces would be of little use during this vulnerable stage. This suggests that the lobsters' soft-tissue-based sound structures are an evolutionary response to predation, Patek said.

"Organisms face many mechanical problems," Patek said in an interview. "In this case, lobsters are able to make sound without relying on hard parts, and therefore they can make sound when their exoskeleton is softened and they are most vulnerable to predation."

Patek said future research might turn up other examples of animals using the same violin-like "stick-and-slip" method to produce sound. She added that she hopes her research will spur others to investigate sound-producing mechanisms and their evolutionary history. Patek's own future includes a three-year postdoctoral Miller Fellowship at UC-Berkeley, where she intends to study the evolution of signals and communication in mantis shrimp.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Duke University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Duke University. "Lobsters Play Biological Violins." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 May 2001. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/05/010511072735.htm>.
Duke University. (2001, May 11). Lobsters Play Biological Violins. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/05/010511072735.htm
Duke University. "Lobsters Play Biological Violins." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/05/010511072735.htm (accessed July 24, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Dogs Appear To Become Jealous Of Owners' Attention

Dogs Appear To Become Jealous Of Owners' Attention

Newsy (July 23, 2014) A U.C. San Diego researcher says jealousy isn't just a human trait, and dogs aren't the best at sharing the attention of humans with other dogs. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Professor Creates Site Revealing Where People's Cats Live

Professor Creates Site Revealing Where People's Cats Live

Newsy (July 23, 2014) ​It's called I Know Where Your Cat Lives, and you can keep hitting the "Random Cat" button to find more real cats all over the world. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Stone Fruit Listeria Scare Causes Sweeping Recall

Stone Fruit Listeria Scare Causes Sweeping Recall

Newsy (July 22, 2014) The Wawona Packing Company has issued a voluntary recall on the stone fruit it distributes due to a possible Listeria outbreak. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Michigan Plant's Goal: Flower and Die

Michigan Plant's Goal: Flower and Die

AP (July 22, 2014) An 80-year-old agave plant, which is blooming for the first and only time at a University of Michigan conservatory, will die when it's done (July 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins