Friday, October 13, 2006

The Cyrano Syndrome: When Romance Is A Risky Business, Let Someone Else Take The Heat

What do you do when you're in the mood for love - but you know looking for romance can kill you? It's a not uncommon dilemma in the natural world and it's one that's been facing male crickets on Hawaii. The crickets attract females by singing out to them. But their calls can also attract a parasitoid fly, which lays eggs on the male that burrow into his body before consuming and killing him. A new study, reported in today's Science , suggests that male crickets have solved the problem by evolving into a new, silent type of cricket, known as the flatwing. The flatwings rather sneakily wait for their male cricket relatives to start singing - then congregate around them in the hope of interecepting interested females. It rather reminds me of the unchivalrous young buck in Cyrano de Bergerac who let the poetic Cyrano drive the beautiful Roxanne wild with passion - then jumped the queue to bed her. The jury is out on who will die out first, the crickets still willing to risk all for love, or the flies who find their normal prey giving them the silent treatment. The findings are reported in Biology Letters, (Biol. Lett. 2, 10.1098/rsbl.2006.0539, 2006)

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