Tom Lawrence, The Water Beetles of Pollardstown Fen

Gruenrekorder, 2011

The Water Beetles of Pollardstown Fen     Photo: Courtesy of Gruenrekorder

Pollardstown Fen is an ancient, 500-acre, spring-fed alkali marsh in County Kildare, 30 miles west of Dublin, but to listen to these hydrophone recordings by Irish musicologist Tom Lawrence, you’d think it was a well-stocked video arcade circa 1985. Electronic stabs, pulsing laser blasts, and a thick blanket of granular static made by the whirlygigs, diving beetles, and water striders skimming across the ponds’ surfaces are among the least natural-sounding nature sounds you’re ever likely to hear. To conjure them, the insects use a process called stridulation, a kind of self-frottage (think crickets) in which textured portions of the elytra and exoskeleton are rubbed, plucked, and otherwise abraded to produce sounds of varying frequency and tone. What are they saying? Beyond general speculation about mating behavior and territorial disputes, scientists aren’t sure.

DID YOU KNOW: Many of Ireland’s fens dried up to form its now ubiquitous peat bogs; Pollardstown survived thanks to a steady supply of water from an adjacent aquifer.

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