MAR 31, 2019 4:52 AM PDT

How a Snapping Organ Helps Planthopper Insects Communicate

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Planthoppers are bugs that first appeared in the fossil record several hundred million years ago. Scientists at the University of Oxford have now identified a unique organ in planthoppers that can create a snapping motion with a combination of elastic recoil and muscle contraction. The findings show how tiny animals are able to communicate over long distances with sounds that we can't hear. The scientists have reported their unexpected discovery of this organ in PLOS Biology. The work may benefit agricultural research; planthoppers are a major carrier of a serious rice virus.

“I was studying 3D images of planthoppers that I had collected using X-ray imaging in a particle accelerator, trying to understand the evolutionary relationships between different groups,” said the lead author of the work, Leonidas-Romanos Davranoglou of the Department of Zoology. “But as I dissected the bugs in virtual reality on my computer, I immediately realized that I was looking at something entirely new, so decided to investigate further.”

The planthoppers have very tiny muscles, which aren’t able to generate the force that would be required to produce powerful vibrations. They utilize stored elastic energy that is suddenly released, like a catapult. In this case, however, the energy that is released comes out in cycles and repetitively moves the planthopper's abdomen up and down. The so-called snapping organ is a complex biological structure that can rapidly open and close.

For this work, the scientists gathered hundreds of live planthopper specimens from hills surrounding Athens. After returning to the laboratory with the bugs, they used laser vibrometry, microtomography, high-speed video, and confocal microscopy to investigate the mechanism of the snapping organ. The researchers turned to the Department of Engineering at the University of Oxford to develop a mathematical model for their observations. 

Many different planthopper families were found to carry this vibratory organ.

“These insects include several economically important pest species, including the brown planthopper, which is one of the most serious pests on rice in the developing world. Understanding how these insects signal to each other may help in disrupting their communication channels or detecting their calls,” said the senior author of the study Dr. Beth Mortimer of the Department of Zoology. 

“Silent to the ear, the planthoppers have come up with their own novel way to communicate with potential mates. You could say it’s their form of snap chat,” she added.

We may have just discovered the snapping organ, but this method of communication is ancient; it's thought to be at least 250 million years old.


Sources: University of Oxford, PLOS Biology

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
AUG 17, 2021
Neuroscience
When Do I Know I'm Me? Researchers Pinpoint Consciousness Patterns
AUG 17, 2021
When Do I Know I'm Me? Researchers Pinpoint Consciousness Patterns
Anti-correlated neurobiological shifts exist between two brain networks involved in consciousness, the "default mode net ...
AUG 18, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Insight Into an Antiviral Enzyme That Can Impact Cancer Cells
AUG 18, 2021
Insight Into an Antiviral Enzyme That Can Impact Cancer Cells
For many years, researchers have studied how an enzyme called APOBEC3 can help protect the body from pathogenic viruses, ...
AUG 19, 2021
Cardiology
How Gut Microbes May Link a High-Fat Diet and Heart Disease
AUG 19, 2021
How Gut Microbes May Link a High-Fat Diet and Heart Disease
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death around the world. Atherosclerosis is known to be a major contributo ...
SEP 09, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
DNA in the Nucleus Observed In a Surprising Formation
SEP 09, 2021
DNA in the Nucleus Observed In a Surprising Formation
In diagrams of cells, DNA is usually shown as a mass in the cell's nucleus, like a bowl of ramen noodles. But researcher ...
SEP 11, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
New NIH Consortium Aims to Understand the Impact of Genetic Variants
SEP 11, 2021
New NIH Consortium Aims to Understand the Impact of Genetic Variants
Scientists sequenced most of the human genome abut two decades ago. It took many years to complete the project because o ...
SEP 27, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Optical Imaging in Tissue with Near-Infrared Dyes
SEP 27, 2021
Optical Imaging in Tissue with Near-Infrared Dyes
Optical Imaging in Tissue with Near-Infrared Dyes Written By Christopher Pratt, PhD   Go Long to See Deeper Imaging ...
Loading Comments...