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      A tympanal hearing organ in scarab beetles.

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      The Journal of experimental biology

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          We describe the paired hearing organ of the scarab beetle Euetheola humilis. The auditory structures of the beetle are typical of other insect ears in that they have a thinned tympanic membrane backed by a tracheal airsac with associated chordotonal sensory structures. The tympanic membranes of the beetle are part of its cervical membrane and are located behind the head, where the cervix attaches dorsally and laterally to the pronotum. Each membrane is approximately 3 microns thick. The chordotonal sensory organ, which lies within the tracheal airsac, contains 3-8 scolopidia that attach by accessory cells directly to the tympanic membrane. Neurophysiological recordings from the neck connective of the beetle revealed that the auditory system is sensitive to frequencies between 20 and 80 kHz and has a minimum threshold of approximately 58 dB at 45 kHz. The neurophysiological audiogram is identical to the behavioral audiogram for a head roll, one behavioral component of the beetle's startle response elicited by ultrasound. Blocking experiments show that the membranous structures on the cervix are indeed the hearing organs. Neurophysiologically determined thresholds increased by more than 35 dB when drops of water covered the tympanic membranes and were essentially restored to the control level when the water was later removed. At least three other genera of Dynastinae scarabs have similar tympanum-like structures located in their cervical membranes. Behavioral and neurophysiological data show that the frequency tuning of species in two of these genera, Cyclocephala and Dyscinetus, is nearly identical to that of E. humilis. Our discovery represents only the second group of beetles known to respond to airborne sounds. However, the hearing organs of these scarab beetles differ in structure and placement from those of the tiger beetles, and thus they represent an independent evolution of auditory organs in the Coleoptera.

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          Author and article information

          J. Exp. Biol.
          The Journal of experimental biology
          Feb 1997
          : 200
          : Pt 3
          [1 ] Section of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA. tforrest@unca.edu


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