Mini-Science 2014 Q&A: “Nature’s chorus: Frog calls and bird songs”

Mini-Science logoAt the conclusion of each Mini-Science lecture, audience members submit their questions to the evening’s presenter. If there is not enough time to answer them all on the spot, some of the other unanswered questions are sent to the presenter for posting here. Here are questions from Prof. David M. Green’s and Prof. Jon Sakata’s lecture, “Nature’s chorus: Frog calls and bird songs” (March 12, 2014).

Q: Do the physical traits and overall health and robustness of male frogs affect the frog’s call? Can the female differentiate between fit and unfit males by song?

A: The health and robustness of a male frog certainly does affect his call, especially how persistently he can do it. Calling requires a great deal of energy and is physiologically demanding. Studies have shown that females tend to prefer males that sing the most persistently, which should correlate with their overall vitality. (Prof. David Green)

Q: How many duets can a male bird sing together with the female bird? Does he sing different duets with a different female bird?

A: The number of duets produced by a pair can vary across species. For example, a male white-crested laughing thrush sings a variety of songs with his partner whereas a male black-bellied wren only sings a single song with his partner. If there is a second (or more!) female in his life, male black-bellied wrens will sing a different song with this second female. Some species sing different songs when they want to sing solo versus when they want to sing a duet. (Prof. Jon Sakata)

Q: Does the female bird respond to the male bird only when she is interested or does she sing along with the male bird whatsoever?

A: Most of the males and females respond to each other’s song during the duet. But there are times in which the male or female sings a solo song. Generally speaking duets are more effective as territorial displays (since both males and females defend the territory) than solo songs. The function of solo songs and why individuals vary in their responsiveness to their partner’s song is not well studied. (Prof. Jon Sakata)

Q: Do you know of any other animal species that inspired famous composers?

A: There is a list of compositions that use or mimic birdsong on this Wikipedia page. (Prof. Jon Sakata)

I found these: (Prof. David Green)

  • Bartok – From the diary of a Fly
  • Beethoven – Symphony No. 6 “Pastoral”
  • Britten – Albert Herring
  • Britten – Curlew River
  • Copland – The Red Pony
  • Debussy – Poisson d’Or (Goldfish)
  • Glinka – The Lark
  • Granados – The Maiden and the Nightingale – from “Goyescas”
  • Haydn – Der Frosch (the Frog) (Quartet)
  • Haydn – Symphony No 82 (The Bear)
  • Haydn – The Lark (Quartet)
  • Hovhaness – And God Created Great Whales.
  • Mendelssohn – Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream (braying donkey)
  • Messiaen – The Blackbird (Le Merle Noir)
  • Milhaud – The Ox on the Roof (le boeuf sur le toit)
  • Mozart – Piano Concerto No. 17 in G (inspired by his starling)
  • Mussorgsky – Song of the Flea
  • Poulenc – Babar the Elephant
  • Prokofiev – Peter and the Wolf
  • Puccini – Madame Butterfly
  • Ravel – Oiseaux tristes (Sad Birds)
  • Respighi – The Birds
  • Rossini – Cats Duet
  • Rossini – The Thieving Magpie
  • Saint Saens – Carnival of the Animals
  • Scarlatti – Cat Fugue
  • Schubert – The Bee (L’Abeille)
  • Schumann – Papillons (Butterflies)
  • Shostakovich – The Gadfly
  • Sibelius – Swan of Tuonela
  • Stravinsky – The Firebird
  • Stravinsky – The Nightingale
  • Telemann – Violin Concerto “The Frogs”
  • Vaughan Williams – The Lark Ascending
  • Vaughan Williams – The Wasps

Please visit the Mini-Science website for more information about the lecture series.

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