Video | Business Headlines | Internet | Science | Scientific Ethics | Technology | Search

 


Of weta ears and whales


Surprising discovery about weta ears reveals similarity with whales

Research in the iconic, and some say maligned, New Zealand weta is challenging ideas about how a large group of insects including crickets and katydids hear, and has revealed an unexpected similarity to whale hearing.

Scientists from the School of Biological Sciences at The University of Auckland, with colleagues from Plant & Food Research in New Zealand and the University of Strathclyde in Scotland, have discovered that weta rely on a unique lipid (a compound that includes oils and fats) to hear the world around them.

“In the weta, as in other members of the Ensiferan group which includes katydids and crickets, sound is detected by ear drums on the front legs,” explains Dr Kate Lomas from The University of Auckland who led the research.

The sound is known to be transmitted through a liquid-filled cavity to reach the hearing organs, but until the current research was done it was presumed that the liquid was simply the insect equivalent of blood (called haemolymph).

The researchers found that it was in fact a lipid of a new chemical class. They believe the role of the lipid is to efficiently transmit sound between compartments of the ear, and perhaps to help amplify quiet sounds.

Whales are the only other creatures known to use lipids to hear: with no external ears they use lipid-filled cavities in their jaw to detect sound vibrations in the water.

Using new tissue analysis and three-dimensional imaging techniques the scientists also discovered a tiny organ in the insects’ ears, which they named the olivarius after Dr Lomas’ son Ollie. The organ appears to be responsible for producing the all-important lipid.

It may have been overlooked in previous studies because standard analytical techniques, which are much harsher, would have damaged or destroyed the fragile tissue. “The ear is surprisingly delicate so we had to modify how we looked at its structure and in doing so we discovered this tiny organ,” says Dr Lomas.

The researchers did their work with the Auckland tree weta. They believe that the same method of hearing is likely to be used by other members of its biologic class, including crickets and katydids, which are famous for the sounds they produce.

“We suspect that the use of lipid in insect ears is much more common than previously realised and that other researchers in the field may need to rethink how these animals hear,” says Associate Professor Stuart Parsons from The University of Auckland.

As to why both weta and whales – creatures that couldn’t be further apart in terms of their biology or public appeal – use lipids to hear: “The short answer is we don’t know, though it’s likely they both converged on a very similar solution to a similar problem,” he says.

ends

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
Business Headlines | Sci-Tech Headlines

 

Future Brighter Money: RBNZ Releases New Bank Note Designs

New Zealand’s banknotes are getting brighter and better, with the Reserve Bank today unveiling more vibrant and secure banknote designs which will progressively enter circulation later next year. More>>

ALSO:

Commerce: Supermarket Inquiry Finds No Breaches By Countdown

The Commerce Commission inquiry into anti-competitive behaviour by Countdown supermarkets, alleged by former Labour Party MP Shane Jones, has found nothing to warrant prosecution, although it warns supermarkets to take care in the way they communicate... More>>

ALSO:

Crown Accounts: English Flags ‘Challenge’ To Budget Surplus

Finance Minister Bill English is warning next month’s half yearly fiscal and economic update from the Treasury may not forecast a budget surplus, saying that returning the government’s accounts to surplus in 2015 will be “a challenge”, given the decline in commodity prices and weak global inflation. More>>

ALSO:

March 2015: Netflix To Launch In Australia And New Zealand

World’s Leading Internet Television Network to Offer Original Series, Movies, Documentaries, Stand-Up Comedy Specials and TV Shows for Low Monthly Price More>>

ALSO:

Price Of Cheese (Is Up): Dairy Product Prices Fall To Five-Year Low

Dairy product prices fell in the latest GlobalDairyTrade auction to the lowest level in more than five years, led by declines in rennet casein and skim milk powder. More>>

ALSO:

Gordon Campbell: On The Australians Scoring Trade Points Against Us With The Chinese

It hasn’t been a great year for Trade Minister Tim Groser... To top it off, Australia has just signed a FTA with China that has far better provisions on dairy exports than what New Zealand currently enjoys in our own FTA with China. More>>

ALSO:

Iwi & Local Consultation: Oil And Gas Block Offer 2015 Begins

Energy and Resources Minister Simon Bridges today announced the start of the Block Offer 2015 process for awarding oil and gas exploration permits. More>>

Industrial Action: Stats NZ Throwing Public Money Away Duplicating Data

The Public Service Association (PSA) says Statistics NZ are throwing money away by collecting the same data twice for official statistics such as the Consumer Price Index... As part of the ongoing industrial action, field interviewers who are PSA members are continuing to collect data, but are not sending it through to Statistics NZ. More>>

ALSO:

Other Stats:

Space: Rosetta's 'Philae' Makes Historic First Landing On A Comet

After more than a decade traveling through space, a robotic lander built by the European Space Agency has made the first-ever soft landing of a spacecraft on a comet. More>>

ALSO:

Get More From Scoop

 
 
Standards New Zealand

Standards New Zealand
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Sci-Tech
Search Scoop  
 
 
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news