Treehoppers | St. Louis Public Radio

Treehoppers

Researchers at SLU eavesdropped on treehopper love songs to better understand how climate change might affect mating in this insect species.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

The insects in your backyard are having conversations at this very moment — but you can’t hear most of them.

Many communicate by producing tiny vibrations that travel through plant leaves and stems, like Morse code. 

St. Louis University researchers are studying treehoppers, insects common to Missouri and Illinois, to understand how climate change might affect their mating songs. Based on years of research, they report male treehoppers change their songs depending on temperature, but females still find the new songs attractive. 

This treehopper in a greenhouse at Saint Louis University would not normally have a purple horn or "pronotum." It was painted that color for identification purposes.
File photo | Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

Researchers are studying countless plants and animals to understand how climate change could threaten populations. At Saint Louis University, scientists want to know if changes in temperature could affect the mating songs of insects.  

Biologists at SLU have received $480,000 from the National Science Foundation to study how temperature affects treehopper mating songs, which could provide clues as to how climate change could affect insect survival. The loss of insect species could adversely affect agriculture and many ecosystems that depend on them.

Good vibrations! These bugs do their sexting via plant stem

Sep 10, 2015
This treehopper in a greenhouse at Saint Louis University would not normally have a purple horn or "pronotum." It was painted that color for identification purposes.
File photo | Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

On a warm summer night, it can sound like there are insects all over the place, calling out from every lawn, bush and tree branch.

But most of what insects are saying to one another we can’t hear.

Saint Louis University evolutionary ecologist Kasey Fowler-Finn has been listening in on the hidden world of insect communication and one bug’s unusual love songs.