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Crickets on Hawaiian Island develop silent wings in response to parasitic attack

RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- In only a few generations, the male cricket on Kauai, one of the Hawaiian Islands, underwent a mutation a sudden heritable change in its genetic material that rendered it incapable of using song, its sexual signal, to attract female crickets, according to a new study by UC Riverside evolutionary biologists.

In addition, the researchers found that although the new male crickets' wings lack the file and scraper apparatus required for producing sound, the males are able to mate successfully with females, thus ensuring evolutionary success. The males accomplish this with a change in behavior, suggesting that behavior can help what may seem like a harmful mutation spread.

The research team, led by Marlene Zuk, a professor of biology, found that greater than 90 percent of male field crickets (Teleogryllus oceanicus) on Kauai shifted in less than 20 generations from having normal wings to mutated "flat wings" that inhibit the crickets from calling. Like all mutations, the wing alteration arose spontaneously, but it likely spread, the researchers conclude, because it offered protection from a deadly parasitic fly (Ormia ochracea), which uses the cricket's song to locate crickets as hosts.

Upon finding a male cricket, the fly deposits larvae onto it; these then burrow into the cricket, develop inside, and subsequently kill the cricket when they emerge from its body. Of three Hawaiian Islands (Oahu, the Big Island of Hawaii, and Kauai) where the cricket and fly co-occur, Kauai, where the rapid spread of this wing mutation in male crickets was observed, has the highest prevalence of the parasitic fly.

Study results appear in Biology Letters, a scientific journal of the Royal Society in the United Kingdom, publishing short papers from across the biological sciences.

"With each visit we made to Kauai since 1991, we observed fewer crickets," said

Contact: Iqbal Pittalwala
iqbal@ucr.edu
951-827-6050
University of California - Riverside
22-Sep-2006


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