This week’s featured scientist is Mounica Kota! Mounica is currently a doctoral student with Marlene Zuk’s lab in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior within the College of Biological Sciences. Her research focuses on animal communication and how different ecological factors drive the evolution of certain communication signals.
Many animals produce different sounds to attract mates. One well-known mating call is the chirp of a cricket. A parasitoid fly known as Ormia ochracea uses the sound of cricket chirps to locate male crickets as hosts for their larvae. However, a mutation arose in the field cricket population of Hawaii which left the males unable to produce sound from their wings. This mutation protected the mutated males from becoming victims to O. ochracea. Soon, the proportion of male crickets with this mutation (known as flatwing mutation) greatly increased in a short amount of time.
The phenomena with the mutated male crickets exemplifies how animal communication changes in response to ecological forces. Mounica and her lab studies the extent to which pre-existing behaviors influence the emergence and spread of the flatwing mutation, leading to new insights about the interactions between behavior and evolutionary change.
Did you know that there are more invertebrates than vertebrates in the world? Invertebrates are animals that lack a vertebral column, or a spine. The largest group of invertebrates are insects, which are estimated to comprise around 90% of animal life forms on Earth. Insects provide a variety of ecological benefits, serving as pollinators for many plants or as food for numerous animals.
Video introduction to Mounica’s research
Learn more about how insects with the activities linked below. You can solve a fun crossword puzzle about insects and build an insect yourself or with kids in these fun activities!