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No. 98: Mar-Apr 1995

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Some Shaky Observations

Back in SF#65, we offered an item on how wood turtles stomp the ground to force earthworms out of their burrows. (When humans do this -- and they do -- it is called "grunting for worms!) Other animals also use vibrations for communication and, rather surprisingly, for cutting leaves.

Malaysian tree frogs. Zoologists already knew that Puerto Rican white-lipped frogs use vibrations to communicate amongst themselves. The Malaysian tree frog can now be added to the list of substrate vibrators. The female will sit on a reed or small sapling and tap out a "come-hither" message with her toes. The message goes forth in minute seismic waves. The males detect these vibrations and proceed, sometimes in great numbers, to the source of the vibrations, and the species is thereby perpetuated.

(Mestel, Rosie; "Courting Tree Frogs Make the Earth Move," New Scientist, p. 8, December 10, 1994.)

Leaf-cutting ants. Leaf-cutting ants neatly excise penny-size pieces of leaves and tote them back to their fungus gardens. J. Tautz and colleagues, University of Wurtzburg, noted that the ants chirped as they sliced at the leaves with their jaws. With a little instrumentation, they discovered that during each chirp both ant and leaf vibrated at about 1,000 hertz. The vibration apparently rigidizes soft leaf tissues and makes them easier to cut. The same principle is used by biologists when they slice soft material for microscope examination. The leaf-cutting ants apparently invented the Vibratome millions of years ago.

(Tautz, Jurgen, et al; "Use of a Sound-Based Vibratome by Leaf-Cutting Ants," Science, 267:84, 1995.)

Comment. It is rather amazing that ants, viewed by most animal behaviorists as mere automatons, could parlay small random mutations into such a technically sophisticated technique.

From Science Frontiers #98, MAR-APR 1995. 1995-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987