NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
15 Sep 1999
- 39.10917 -77.55778
Stereo=1; Decoded MS stereo
NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
Show: Bug Communication
Log of DAT: #5
ng = not good
g = good
vg = very good
0.00.00 -0.00.29 Crickets, Rex Chatting, mic noise.
0.00.30 -0.02.00 crickets, walking through woods, airplane, hard crunch. Walking Ambi.
Walking through woods, [a little mic bumping], they get to their destination and stop, say:
0.02.40 -0.03.21 RC: So Alex, let's try a practice branch,
RC: And, if you can operate the clippers,
RC: I don't know which one we'll need, but we can
AC: That one is probably, it's good because,
RC: Well, let's try it.
AC: So the goal is, clip -this thing as gently as possible so that the treehoppers don't really know that anything's happened to the branch.
RC: So for example in this one I will pull it down and hold it, and you can clip it somewhere upstream of me.
Ambi -crickets, in woods, then SNAP! The clipping of aforementioned branch. Laughter,
AC: We got sprayed with rainwater, but the branch didn't move!
RC: There was a big snap right when it cut, so we're likely to get a little,
AC: Ok, let's try this again, try this again, cause I can cut it. ..
RC: Well, what about the bigger one,
AC: If I cut farther down here ... [pause]
RC: That was good
AC: that's better? ok. [plane flying over]
Chatting and walking, but plane still flying over in beginning. Trying to find another tree.
Ambi, then clipping another tree, AC: Try the other clippers ...
RC: Or you could just, yeah, let's just try them. That should work okay, but
AC: We're trying these various clippers and I've got a very small hand pair here, they're good clippers, but they make a little sound and Rex is worried that that's going to scare the treehoppers off -we'll try another here ... These are big woppers!
Ambi then a gradual cutting of branch, plane in background,
RC: That's what we want to use ...
AC: Okay, okay
RC: all right.
Bumping of mic, plane, more crickets, and chatting.
0.05.40 -0.06.09 AC: Say again?
RC: This is the same branch we were recording from yesterday, and there are a few small aggregations, that doesn't seem to have quite as many individuals as it did yesterday evening, but some of them seem to have moved up here. But lets try this one anyway.
AC: okay. So get in right at the base? RC: yeah. AC: okay
ambi -cutting the branch again. RC: lovely.
AC: Now, the ants I noticed are taking some interest in this ..
RC: Many of them are simply dropping off...
AC: Now, shall I snip off some of these upper branches Rex?
RC: No. Of this you mean? AC: Yeah.
RC: No. We may need to well,
AC: I don't think that's going to fit in the cage. [Breathing, thinking ...]
RC: Here at this end you mean?
AC:Yeah, I think so. [ambi -crickets, breathing]
[chirping crickets and some birds, rain falling on leaves, occasional movement of AC and RC]
RC: Obviously not this one.
[pause] AC: okay [pause]
AC: Wait, we've got something on here -we've got 'em on here
RC: ...couple on here ...
AC: Let's just take this back and see what we get.
RC: all right ...
AC: Okay, now how do we get this thing back through the fence without.
RC: Oh, you know what else, we should trim these couple at the bottom so we can ...
AC: Well wait and pass it over the fence, one person goes through, and
RC: Yeah, I think we'll be all right there. [chatting, whilest walking and maneuvering. Crickets galore!]
0.08.40 -0.10.20 now, inside a room of some sort, still crickets moving around a lot, on gravel, on hard floor, walking. Then in grass _back outside, walking.
AC calls to video crew. More walking. Some light chatter.
Group enters some sort of building, pretty strong echo on everything here - Chatter, moving chairs
out in field, rain on leaves, far-off cow.
0.11.21 -0.12.05 Out in field, rain, airplane, birds, crickets, mic bumping,
0.12.05 -0.13.12 Rain gets stronger, then fades again. Birds, crickets. Airplane far off.
0.13.12 -0.14.16 Rain gets stronger now, very faint airplane, rain dies down a little
0.14.16 -0.15.24 AC: Plane. Rain. Ambi -rain, plane, birds, crickets.
0.15.24 -0.17.24 AC: Hopefully the plane's going away [rain, birds, crickets, plane. Plane gets louder]
0.17.24 -0.18.54 Plane has faded [barely audible at points]. Rain, crickets, birds.
0.19.00 -0.20.00 Setting up for interview -mic volumes, etc. inside somewhere, good amt. Reverb. People walking around, mic bumping.
0.20.00 -0.23.22 Same -people moving around room (setting up TV cameras?) lots of mic bumping.
0.23.22 -0.24.03 Same as above, slate for video. Split track, track 1 is Ned, track 2 is NPR. Both EQ flat.
0.24.03 -0.25.51 AC: I think a question that anyone who kind of wandered in here to listen to the treehoppers would stick their head in there and say, Well, I don't hear anything. And the question is, is this really sound?
RC: Well, that's really a definitional question -[some word here?!] I've actually gotten in to arguments with people about whether this is sound or something completely different from sound. So, the major text book in this area is called structure-born sound. So I think we're on firm ground calling it sound, but it's sound that's limited to this solid medium, and it's not transmitted quite the way sound is in air, which is a series of pressure waves in air which spread out in three directions -what's happening here is that these sounds are transmitted along the stem as what are called bending waves, so that the stem itself is actually flexing minutely, and that this flexture is traveling along the stem. So they're really -as it's traveling this way, the most of the movement is perpendicular to the path of the travel, so in that sense it's very different from sound, but really I think it's, it's, I think of it more like underwater sound, or the sounds that might be made by beetles scraping away at a log, it's just that it's sound, but we are not set up to hear it. Our ears are firmly in the middle of this 3 dimensional medium, the air, and we have no way of listening to a sound traveling through a stem.
AC: It's not just that they're calling very quietly to one another, and we need these special microphones to hear them.
0.25.51 -0.26.33 RC: No, it's not that quiet, in fact with this species, on a fairly calm day when the males are hitting their head against the branch, you can actually hear that two or three feet away through the air, but it's really just that we're not equipped to hear it. So it's not that the frequencies are two low, like elephant sounds, for us to hear, or that they're way above the range of our hearing, like the sounds of bats or some insects like katydids that can call with ultra-sonic signals. These are in a beautiful frequency range for us, they use many of the same frequencies as we do in our own speech.
0.26.33 -0.28.08 AC: Okay. [pause] messing around by the camera crew. Pause, in sound, as RC pretends to get a treehopper for the camera. Other problems.
AC: Are these unusually cooperative treehoppers, or are all treehoppers this, kind of calm, easygoing, move me around on a stem or a leaf and I won't flyaway ...
RC: They're pretty sedentary insects as a rule, and they spend most of their lives in one spot on a plant, but one thing that kind of strikes me about this set up is that if we were studying birds or mountain lions, there's no way we could be doing this. But one of the real wonderful thing about working with a small insect and a plant-feeding insect like this is that the dimensions of their world are pretty small, so the things that an individual cares about are really close to it, the branch under its feet, maybe the movement in its immediate environment here they're more comfortable maybe with the presence of ants, and if you can reproduce that, in a laboratory setting, then they'll behave quite naturally because they've got most of the elements of their normal environment. So here we cut this stem and brought it in, and we're getting beautiful natural behavior that looks exactly like what we were seeing in the field.
AC: You mentioned when we were clipping branches earlier and bringing things in, you mentioned that very often people work in the lab because there's no wind, and there's no rain, and it's easier to kind of eliminate other influences on the treehoppers, but you also said it's actually much easier for us to record What they're doing out there in the field than in the laboratory. I mean, it's hard. You do have to get them on the stem here, and then wait for them to get in to the mood.
RC: Sure. You have to do a certain -right, if they're out in the field, then all the conditions that they're expecting are there, and if you bring them in to the lab you have to Work harder to create some of those, like having the temperature right and the light right and here we have one little stem, so if the male flies off well, no new males are going to fly back in, but in the field there's going to be a sort of exchange back and forth. But over-all it really is much easier to work with this in the lab, and for experimental things, like if you were to want to try to understand the function of some of these communication signals, that requires both characterizing or quantifying the context in which they're given, and looking at the behavior of the individuals that are responding to the signals, sn We play back signals and look at how other individuals respond and there you really have to do it in the lab and under pretty standard conditions and have just the individuals on the plant that you want, and no more, etc.
RC: We're actually getting some pretty good behavior here Ned, you're missing it.
Camera-guy: Sedentary -sedentary, ask that question again ...
AC: Are they, are these particularly helpful treehoppers or are they al! camera-hogs the way these guys are?
RC: Actually for treehoppers these are fairly active and almost nervous.
AC: really? hee hee hee
RC: Comparatively speaking ...
AC : You know if we were just doing this for radio, we wouldn't have this problem ..
RC: No, but their main task, at least when they're growing up from, once they hatch out of the egg until they become adults, and even much of their time as adults, is feeding, and When they're feeding they're in one place, with their little feeding tube, or style, that's inserted in through the bark, into the circulatory system of the plant, and then once they find a good spot, they'll just stay there until something happens that makes them want to leave. So they're pretty sedentary insects, which is, in a way, one of the things that's surprising, that they're so, that their communication and their social behavior is so rich, because from the outside, the sort of unbiased opinion might be that there could be hardly anything that looks more boring than treehopper behavior because most of the time they're sitting there like a little group of plant parts.
Camera guy doing stuff-synching, moving camera, Alex sighing.
0.33.40 -0.34.54 AC: earlier when you're trying to get just the call of the male and the ants keep getting on the males, are kinda walking on the shot, why don't you take the ants away on a blade of grass or, just reach in and pull them off with your fingers -would that disturb the treehoppers?
RC: No, probably not, we certainly could remove the ants, but overall I suspect they're more likely to stay on a branch that has ants, partly because in the field, a branch with ants is a relatively safe, secure area, because these ants are not just interacting with the treehoppers, but as you noticed they're patrolling up and down to the branch, and they all rush up and contact with their ???? even if it moves if it's another insect, whether it's, maybe another herbivore on the plant, or a predator there, they'll attack it and bite it and maybe throw it off the plant. So branches without ants are much more likely to have predators on them then branches with ants.
AC: And you told me that these particular ants are especially aggressive, and, so these must be very very good for the treehoppers.
RC: From the standpoint of defense, yes these are, these seem to be really good ants, and there has been study done with this same species of ant, and this species of tree hopper, showing how dramatic an effect ant attendance had on the survivorship of immature treehoppers. There are other species of ants that also collect honeydew, that might be effective against certain insects but they're about a third the size of these ants and they're not at all aggressive and so the benefits that the treehoppers are going to get from this mutualism are going to vary somewhat depending upon the partner that they've got. And these are fairly facultative mutualisms, so that this ant may often tending other species of honeydew, producing homoptera and these treehoppers can also be even on a nearby tree or even at a different time of day on the same tree it might be tended by a different species of ant.
0.36.08 -0.37.55 . [camera stuff, mic bumping]
0.37.55 -0.38.30 recorded silence
0.38.30 -0.39.11 Calling Anne, the dog, messing around.
Calling the dog, some mic bumping, crickets. Talking to Rex's mom about her house.
Dogs barking and running around, people coming out ofhouse, more dog barking.
AC and someone else chatting about a branch of treehoppers. Explaining what they're going to do to the camera people. A few seconds of ambi
Ambi, walking over a gravelly ground, crickets. Airplane at end.
0.45.10 -0.45.23 Alex and others laughing.
Ambi -crickets, birds, out in woods.
Alex laughing, with others at some joke.
AC; A couple things -a couple things that you mentioned. We talked yesterday about anthropo -anthropomorphism and how people are interested in insects because they're more like humans and is that a good thing or a bad thing, and 1'd been taught that it's a bad thing, but you said, you kind of suggested that actually it's interesting, there're good aspects to people being more interested in insects or other parts of the natural world, because they seem to be more like us. Or because they do things that we think of as being our behavior, for instance, looking after kids. Looking after offspring.
RC; Well, the answer -I don't know if I'd agree entirely with your - interpretation-The idea that anthropomorphizing is always, I think has been a bit over done. Really we're, we only know, we only infer consciousness in other human being by analogy, right, we have no direct means of experiencing. And we use all the same means of inferring mental states in other animals too, and with things that are really closely related to us, there's probably some validity to that, like primates and things. Probably the danger of misinterpreting states is almost less in things as foreign as insects because we're, we don't tend to identify very closely with them, so almost, don't, just treat their mental states as a black box because it's so inaccessible to us, that it really, issue doesn't come up -so we tend to often describe their behavior in very functional terms, rather than ascribing to them emotions, because it's very hard impute emotions to an insect doing thing -well sometimes, you feel okay well that looks really frustrated or so, I don't know if it's really
AC: But people like your studies when they hear about it -people like what you've done. They feel an attachment to the behavior of these insects and they think differently about these insects.
RC: Sure, in the cases where -say there's a female who then spends _who lays her eggs, and spends the rest of her life caring for those offspring, that is something that people don't expect insects to do, and that is something that they can identify with. So I would agree that does make them much more accessible and interesting to people because you can understand seemingly the same motives that are driving them, so watch a female treehopper defending her offspring, she defends them very vigorously and rapidly and one could imagine -[words I don't understand]- doing the same thing under those circumstances, although-
AC: But in tell people about these treehoppers, in describe what you've learned, it's not just that she defends her offspring, it's that she spends her entire life dedicated to their well-being. I mean she, she doesn't just defend them sometimes when something shows up you know, kind of by happenstance, -she's there for them! She's there for her kids. That's what she's doing!
RC: She's there for them -Okay. In terms of the intensity of parental care, especially in these thorn bugs, give credit where it's due, and this is -Tom Wood was the one who really first showed us this incredible level of parental care in treehoppers, and my work really builds on his work and extends it in a number of ways, but one of them is that communication is intimately involved in coordinating all these interactions between parents and offspring and that they're not just, offspring are not just sitting there and the parents are defending them, but the offspring are letting the parent know when the perceive danger, and the parent is letting them know other things are going on, so their linked tightly by communication and the mother's responding in some ways to the stress signals of her offspring.
Alex wants dog to stop barking. Chats with Rex about how the interview will work.
AC: alright, Why communication? Why study communication? What is it about
communication and insect communication that interests you?
RC: Well, that's -why people end up studying any particular thing has always kind of fascinating to me, and it's not just restricted to biology, it's why do people pick any career and biologists pick certain animals sometimes for the reasons that somebody might pick particular career so somebody could have grown up traveling and seen elephants in Africa when they were young and impressionable, and wanted to go back and study that, or -it's not always clear Why. But lets say once you've decided to go into Biology, you have on first principles this infinite slate of millions 0 species of ferns, algae, bacteria, birds, primates, that you could study, and , and then certainly from the stand point of someone who's done research for a while, as soon as you start researching anyone species you realize it's really an infinite well of questions because every time you answer one question it immediately raises other questions and so any aspect of it, from its ecology its behavior, its morphology its molecular biology, is potentially this huge well of questions you could ask so you've got this complete slate of things, and often the reasons I think people tend to pick for the reasons people pick one thing or another, kind of a combination of the rational and the irrational -we 0 en present and if we're giving a talk in this very rational way -Well, I'm interested in this general question and therefore this species is particularly suited for it, but I think it's a combination of people finding themselves drawn to particular kinds of organisms, which may have to do with their experience or their temperament, and so you, your either a completely organism centered approach or I'm going to go study penguins and then having no idea what you're going to study, so you might you might find yourself in a rather aimless position of not knowing which of the infinite things you could study about penguins. Or the other would be completely question driven -well I'm interested in questions of how animals deal with risk, or how animals acquire food or even some more, much more focused theoretical question you're interested in, and then I'm going to go find something that fits it. And the danger there is that you might find yourself down the road with an organism that's really not suited once you know it better, for your question or for whom those premises and assumptions behind this theory really don't apply. So, my own approach is kind of a combination of general questions and organisms, and for irreducible reasons that I can't explain at all, I've just been drawn to -it's like, frogs initially and insects. And partly I think it is because they're so different from us that studying them just requires a complete act of the imagination, the way you try to put yourself in their world. They're also incredibly beautiful and one thing -an amazing thing about studying biology is that there's this tremendous aesthetic content in anything and if you study a bacteria or a protozoa, they're beautiful! And once you start to appreciate, you realize Jeez, you can get a tremendous high from material that most people wouldn't get that same high from.
0.56.14 -0.58.20 AC: But if! look at a treehopper it looks sort of like maybe a very very small-it's about the size of a pea, and not a very big pea at that, and to the naked eye it looks like maybe a very small turtle -I mean it's just kind of a little kind of half-moon shell there. That's about all that I can see with the naked eye.
RC: Well that's -that's this particular treehopper which among treehopper people this is considered to be about the most boring treehopper you could possibly find -actually they're known for being really really bizarrely shaped -down in the tropic there're treehoppers that have things that look like spaceships coming out of their backs, or things that look like wasps, or ants, or just completely bizarre shapes that nobody could explain, but my. I ended up studying treehoppers because of an interest in communication and a certainty that they would be doing some interesting communication because of their social behavior, and being drawn to the animals themselves, and you ask me well, why communication, and to just step way back -people since forever have been interested in adaptation and a fit between organisms and their environment, and by that I mean an incredible design of the eye for seeing, or might be the way a woodpecker's beak and shock-absorbing skull and neck muscles adapted beautifully for the way it gets food in tree trunks, and so then with Darwin provided a way to study adaptation and a way of understanding a rational explanation for how this kind of fit could come about, and one of the most interesting sets of adaptations that we're still learning a lot about involve behavior, which is kind of central in many other things, animal's behavior is what puts it in an environment, and when it moves its sense organs that's what it sees, so behavior is really kind of fundamental to many other aspects of understanding animals, and one of the most interesting parts of behavior is one that as humans we can understand quite well, which is adaptations to not just their overall environment but to that part of their environment that's made up of other individuals of the same species -their social environment. And that's really interesting place to look at adaptations because you're competing with other individuals with the same capacities and playing by much the same rules, and so they're the past few decades have been wonderful for studies of adaptations and social life, and then social competition, has produced lots of really -Let me just continue a little bit,
AC: I just want you to ID that...
0.58.20 -: 1.00.42 RC: If -this, a lot of what's determined an individual's reproductive success, is its success then in its social environment -success in dealing with other kinds of specifics, other individuals of the same species. And one of the universals of social behavior -if you go out and look at it in animals, possibly in plants, is that it's carried out by means of communication, by means of signals that one individual produces that can influence the behavior of another individual. And so communication is a basic feature of how individuals of many many many different kinds of taxa deal with their social environment -and it's a very fascinating process because it's very indirect -it's not as if I'm influencing your behavior by physically forcing you to do something that I want you to do -it's very indirect. I'm producing a signal -some patterned form of energy and it's active site is something that's very difficult for us to study on the outside -it's not like a woodpecker that's pecking on a tree that we can see from the outside okay, how it's designed. The place where signals are effective is inside your nervous system. And you're response -we can only get a very indirect read-out in terms of your response to signals in terms your future behavior.
1.00.42 -1.02.49 AC: Isn't this, not to be concentrating -not to again be drawing links between insects and people, but isn't there a link there? Aren't you talking about, I mean you're talking about trying to figure out how this communication system works, and saying that it works internally in the individual insect that communication-
RC: Sure. There's no theoretical gap, really between human communication and animal communication, and even insect communication there are differences but we can certainly consider them all in the same theoretical framework. Insects to me are wonderful things to study communication in because you can really address questions in a very detailed way, so if there're things that are communicating wonderfully like whales, say. Communication in whales, what we learn about it, is totally fascinating, but I find it, I would find it frustrating to study whales because we're so limited in what we can learn because it's a tremendous effort just to get to where they are and record their sounds, and people are just beginning to work out ways to play back their sounds. But with something like insects, at least these kinds of insects, we can watch them in the fields, their scale is small enough that we can be quite close by and watch them without disturbing their behavior, and then once we understand how their communication works and their behavior works in this natural context, we can bring them in to the lab, still create the conditions that will allow them to behave naturally but then begin to pick apart cause and effect by using experimental manipulations, so we can play back their sound, we can change these social groups, in a very controlled way, so we can really ask much more fundamental questions and answer them in a system where we can use all these different ways to learn things.
1.02.49 -1.03.15 AC: I want to record some ambience here, but I actually want to ask another couple of questions? Carolina, how are you doing here? CJ: bothered by the rain? Ned chats ...
1.03.15 -1.05.34 AC: It's the imagination factor -that's what I want to ask a little bit more about. Insects, are, you like working with them because they require an active imagination, or they allow an active imagination? RC: Well, that's a tough question, it's kind of-It's kind of both. I mean for one thing, okay sure, you can imagine what their world is like, and we can never know. So in that sense they're very permissive of an active imagination because you're not likely to get information that is contradicting you. On the other hand, this active imagination also has kind of a reality check, because if you try to -it's not completely imagination it's partly just putting yourself in the animals place and thinking about what is important to this animal. And the more you learn about that, the more likely you are to understand anyone component, so if I'm interested in communication, I've also got to know something about relationship between the insect and the plant, which is a very intimate relationship and is completely central to their whole biology. And then in this case you have to know something about the relationship between this insect and another insect that it's in a mutualism with. [something] and the treehoppers. And then you have to know something about their predators and you build up more and more pieces that are important to their ecology and a lot of these insights about what's important for an insect comes from just sitting there and watching them with your mind kind of a blank slate, just simply sitting and watching without necessarily thinking about much. But once you kind of start to put yourself in the animal's world, you begin to get a lot of ideas about challenges they might be facing or relationships between two features of their behavior that you might not have, that might have escaped you, you might have missed otherwise. So there is also a very useful purpose to this act of kind of putting yourself in the animal's shoes.
AC: Okay, just one more. We were over, we actually returned the treehoppers that we were studying in your house. We returned them to this tree. Why did you return them to the tree?
[pause -rain on leaves]
RC: Well if I didn't return them to the tree, they would be likely to die -they would certainly die inside the house, and if we just threw the stems that they were on out into the yard, they may or may not find their way back to the tree so this is done out of a respect and affection for the animals, really. We certainly disturbed them to some extent by cutting the branch they were on and bringing them inside. But it seems like the thing to do when we're done, is to put them back on their tree. Even, -I know, for another aspect might be that I hope there are treehoppers there next year, so we put these back, we had quite a few in the lab, so we're not really culling the population too much when we put these back.
AC: And affection for the animal?
RC: Oh yeah. Yeah, most -no matter what they're studying, most organismal biologists get quite an affection for what they're studying, if it's fruit flies, or slugs...
AC: You said actually that -we noticed the ants, and you said you don't actually like, I mean you like ants, but you don't like them enough to study cause their too fast and
RC: Somehow they don't quite suit my personality so that's the kind of irrational aspect of why someone chooses something to study.
AC: What is it about a treehopper that does? How would you characterize a treehopper? If an ant is fast and nervous, how would you characterize a treehopper?
RC: They're [?] very slow, so if they're not contemplative, at least you can certainly contemplate them. [laughter] What they might be contemplating as they're sitting there for three weeks I have no idea! They sit there long enough that you can watch them. And they're beautiful, looking and or, at least very strange looking animals and what really I think enchants me about treehoppers is that not only do they turn out to have these really fascinating communication systems that are fascinating from an intellectual standpoint, but their calls are just so abundantly wonderful that you can't help liking an animal that provides you with this incredible life-long entertainment, of going out into the field, and recording unheard sound after unheard sound.
Good long ambi track, rain on leaves in forest.
1.10.00 - 1.10.34
camera stuff. Shot of taking the branch somewhere. Mic bumping
1.10.34 - 1.11.24
another good long ambi track. Rain on leaves, crickets, birds (not as good as previous)
1.11.25 - 1.13.21
a few people walking on gravel through rain, crickets, a little mic bumping. Doing camera stuff
1.13.21 - 1.15.19
CJ: . . . coming upon this farm, and originally I was going to drive, but it's so nice that I'll just walk. . .
Good ambi track, then walking on gravelly path, with rain and birds.
[airplane at end of track]
1.15.19 - 1.15.59
Walking on gravel again, with rain and birds, but mostly footsteps. They stop, and we hear just rain on leaves (and some sort of structure?)
1.15.59 - 1.16.17
CJ: Okay! This is the end of this bug recording with Rex Cocroft.
RC: A new outlook on bugs.
CJ: That's for sure!
END OF TAPE