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How Crickets Sing Their Way to Love: An Insect Version of American Idol

By Mara Lafontaine · August 1, 2023

In brief…

  • Professor Tom Tregenza and his team conducted a study in Spain on crickets' mating habits.
  • Male crickets use singing to attract females; the louder and longer the singing, the more attractive they appear. The males try to outdo one another, creating swells of sound.
  • Female crickets, with ears on their legs, select mates based on their singing.
  • When males sense a rival getting too close, the song stops abruptly.
Illustration of a cricket. The male of the species uses his singing skills to win a mate.  Gilbert White / Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In a years-long study conducted in a meadow in Spain, Professor Tom Tregenza and his colleagues at the University of Exeter explored the mating behavior of crickets. “We’ve got a network of 140 video cameras all over this field, and we observe them all the time. So it’s kind of like big brother house, but with crickets in it,” Tregenza told NPR.  

In that case, the dating lives of crickets might be akin to American Idol, but with crickets. For crickets, to impress the ladies, you have to win a singing competition.

Tregenza explained: “When you hear insects singing in your garden or cicadas or grasshoppers or bush crickets, it’s almost invariably the males that are singing… And they’re almost invariably singing for one reason, which is to try to attract females.”

The competition among male crickets is real, with each attempting to outdo the other by singing louder and longer. But they actually act cooperatively, participating in something called singing overlap - those swelling crescendos we often hear in the summer. It’s a choir of hopeful bachelors.  

The females, with their ears located on their legs, listen to this performance, selecting their mates based on the serenade.

According to Tregenza, “A male that sings a lot has got the energy to do a lot of singing. And that suggests that he’s a good male… He’s got genes that have allowed him to eat enough food to get himself into good condition and do a lot of singing.”

When the males sense a male competitor getting too close, the song abruptly stops. 

And that’s the story of the birds and the bees … for crickets!