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November 2014



Male parasitic wasps attract females with a courtship song produced by rapid wing fanning. Songs have been described for several parasitic wasp species; however, beyond association with wing fanning, the mechanism of sound generation has not been examined. We characterized the male courtship song of Cotesia congregata (Hymenoptera: Braconidae) and investigated the biomechanics of sound production.

Methods and Principal Findings

Courtship songs were recorded using high-speed videography (2,000 fps) and audio recordings. The song consists of a long duration amplitude-modulated “buzz” followed by a series of pulsatile higher amplitude “boings,” each decaying into a terminal buzz followed by a short inter-boing pause while wings are stationary. Boings have higher amplitude and lower frequency than buzz components. The lower frequency of the boing sound is due to greater wing displacement. The power spectrum is a harmonic series dominated by wing repetition rate ~220 Hz, but the sound waveform indicates a higher frequency resonance ~5 kHz. Sound is not generated by the wings contacting each other, the substrate, or the abdomen. The abdomen is elevated during the first several wing cycles of the boing, but its position is unrelated to sound amplitude. Unlike most sounds generated by volume velocity, the boing is generated at the termination of the wing down stroke when displacement is maximal and wing velocity is zero. Calculation indicates a low Reynolds number of ~1000.

Conclusions and Significance

Acoustic pressure is proportional to velocity for typical sound sources. Our finding that the boing sound was generated at maximal wing displacement coincident with cessation of wing motion indicates that it is caused by acceleration of the wing tips, consistent with a dipole source. The low Reynolds number requires a high wing flap rate for flight and predisposes wings of small insects for sound production.


© 2013 Bredlau et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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