The Earth Has Music for Those Who Listen

Twitter is a popular way to communicate using social media, but birds do it naturally by “tweeting” songs and talking with each other with specific sounds that can be used to identify them. The Earth has music for those who listen, with sounds surrounding us. For instance, the deathwatch beetle (Xestobium rufovillosum) has had a strange impact on humanity. It lives in wood and, when searching for a mate, it bangs its head against the wood, making a “tick tick tick” noise, like that of a watch. People would hear these ticks when the house was quiet, notably when someone is on their deathbed. So the beetle’s ticking was interpreted as a symbol of impending death. While most of nature doesn’t have quite so morbid of an impact on us, the noises created by plants, trees and animals are all around us, all the time. Nature can be very loud, if we just listen.

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Deathwatch Beetle (Xestobium rufovillosum)

The music made in nature was an influence for classical composers, such as Bach, Beethoven and others. They may have made music using precise keys on a harpsichord or strings on a violin, to mimic animals in nature. Musicologists have identified the ways that birds have influenced human music, since the earliest composers used various birdsongs to inspire their classical compositions. Some composers intentionally imitate bird song in a composition. Each animal has its own language of sounds and makes its own music. Frogs like to sing for different reasons and in different ways, especially in the evening. The sound of tree frogs singing is one of nature’s soothing sounds. Some frogs have vocal pouches that are different sizes which stretch out and serve as a resonating chamber. Others make noises without any such chamber or sac. Large frogs make low, deep sounds, which means they call at a low audio frequency; small frogs use high frequency by singing with high chirping noises. Just like the frogs, when we sing, we make a noise. This noise comes from the sound waves we create in our mouths moving the air around us, just like throwing a pebble into a pool – the waves travel out, away from us. We can use these sounds to communicate with each other, and animals are no different.

songbird

In fact, they can use other methods as well. Sound is part of the spectrum of electromagnetic waves that includes the light spectrum. Radio waves, microwaves, visible rays such as infrared and ultraviolet, soft and hard x-rays and gamma rays are all part of this spectrum and they resonate around you, even if you can’t see or hear them. You can think of sound as the different frequencies that can be heard. Sound is part of the spectrum of electromagnetic waves that includes the light spectrum. Radio waves, microwaves, visible rays such as infrared and ultraviolet, soft and hard x-rays and gamma rays are all part of this spectrum and they resonate around you, even if you can’t see or hear them. You can think of sound as the different frequencies that can be heard by different ‘receptors.’ Dogs can hear a dog whistle, but humans can’t. It is a higher frequency of sign that is outside the ‘hearing range’ of humans. Human’s hearing ranges vary according to age with younger humans having a wider range on the audio spectrum. Frogs croak, birds chirp, hawks cry and dogs bark, all to tell other animals “hello” or “beware.”

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Not all animals are the same, however, in their communication. Bats are a little different. They can use sound waves to navigate, using a process called “echolocation.” Humans cannot hear these noises – “ultrasound” – but bats can: they use it for echolocation when hunting insects. Bats are able to “see” the world around them – and their prey – using sound waves, listening for those ripples in the pond. They chirp and chitter, using their large ears to listen intently to those ripples as they bounce off objects around them. Just like bats in the air, a similar thing happens under water – animals make noises in their mouths and the sound travels through the water! This is how whales make their long, loud calls that can be heard dozens of miles away and is also used for echolocation.

Franjestaart; Natterer's bat; Myotis nattereri

We humans have been able to replicate this for guiding submarines under water and allowing ships to see what is underneath the waves. We call it SONAR (Sound Navigation and Ranging). Animals also make use of the world around them to make noises. Woodpeckers rap on trees for food. Beavers slap their tails on water to warn other beavers of danger. Chipmunks and squirrels play in the trees and the undergrowth, making noises all around us with their chasing.

You just have to stop and listen. Maybe you can even “Tweet” it.

The Mission of the Chattahoochee Nature Center is to connect people with nature. Learn more at www.chattnaturecenter.org.