Scientists Just Found a Mystery Insect Organ

Date:21 April 2022 Author: Juandre

It’s not everyday that you find a new organ in the body of not one, but three different groups of insects. That is, unless you’re the team of scientists who very recently discovered a sensory organ that picks up vibrational signals in leafhoppers, spittlebugs, and planthoppers.

The vibrational signals are generated by what the researchers refer to as “tymbal buckling” (the movement of the sound-producing organ), combined with oscillatory motions emanating from the abdomen that travel along plant surfaces. Much like a telephone line, one insect will create the signal and another critter along the same surface will “hear” it with the help of their abdominal sternal plates.

From there, the vibration is transmitted to the chordotonal organs, which are responsible for perceiving said vibrations, thus completing the communication exchange. The team, made up of scientists from several German institutions, published their findings on April 13 in Biology Letters.

This discovery is exciting for many reasons: first, it can be used as a sort of pest-control method to keep certain insects that have the organ, including some leafhoppers, from damaging native flora. If we can find a way to interrupt these signals, we might be able to slow the reproductive process of the more harmful insects. Second, it upends what we previously thought about communication between these groups of insects.

It was originally believed that these three groups of insects picked up on the vibrational signals via simple organs along their legs that feature some sensory cells. In reality, though, the insects create the signals that get picked up by mechanoreceptors within the sensory organ located in the abdomen which allow for communication.

Researchers believe that the organ is similar to that of the tympanal organ found in cicadas, and that both evolved from the same ancestral organ due to their locations and morphologies. Additional physiological research will reveal more about the organ, but for now, the discovery remains a thrilling move forward for the field of biotremology, which studies the vibrational communication detected by specialized organs in various animals.

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