The world is filled with billions of insects that creep, crawl, fly or buzz, but few are more well known in our society than crickets.
California State University, Northridge biology professor David Gray – with 20 years’ experience researching the ubiquitous, chirping insects – recently unveiled something new in the world of crickets: Gray and his team discovered 17 new species of cricket in the western United States.
“I think people sort of aren’t surprised if there are new insect species found in the Amazon jungle, but something new that’s in the U.S. and as big, noisy and conspicuous as a cricket surprises people,” said Gray. “Everyone knows what a cricket is and, that there are undiscovered species here now, is quite remarkable.”
With the help of sound recorders, Gray was able to distinguish the songs of male crickets and classify them accordingly – classifications later confirmed by DNA sequencing.
“I listen for them, catch them and record them while they’re captive,” said Gray. “The fieldwork to catch the crickets could be anywhere, from the remote wilderness to small towns.”
There are an estimated 1,000 species of cricket around the world. More than 100 species can be found in the U.S., with many sharing physical characteristics in shape and appearance.
“The key to identifying different species is the call of the males,” Gray said. “When you hear crickets ‘chirp chirp,’ those are the males calling to attract females for mating, and those calls differentiate the various species.”
Adult males are the only the ones capable of producing chirp songs, he said.
Gray, who joined CSUN’s faculty in 2001, specializes in behavioral ecology and evolution. His research initially focused on birds but soon transitioned to crickets.
“Working with birds was super fun, but there wasn’t a lot of data,” Gray said. “I thought I should switch to something that was easier to collect a lot of data. faster. I switched to crickets not knowing anything about them or having any real love for them, but because they would be a good research system.”
During his years at CSUN, more than 50 undergraduate students have participated in his research program.
With immense biodiversity in the world, Gray said, there are many things still to be discovered in our own backyard.
Gray is working to submit his finding to the scientific journal Zootaxa for review. He expects his work to be published in July of next year.
For more information on Gray’s work, visit https://gryllid.wordpress.com/.