307 — Discovery of a new song mode in Drosophila reveals hidden structure in the sensory and neural drivers of behavior
This research emphasizes how important it is to enforce a distinction between similar neural underpinnings for different behaviors, or different neural underpinnings for very similar behaviors.
the most beautiful song of all known creatures only a few song “modes”: When doing that flirty thing, male fruit flies will beat their wings in order to create different sounds, and the female flies will rate their songs based on sexiness. It was previously believed that there were only two types of male song “mode”: A sine mode, and a pulse mode.
But this research proves that the pulse mode is actually a family of modes; there are at least two pulse modes, including Pfast and Pslow. And furthermore, a variety of stimuli will cause the male to prefer one versus the other: A male nearby to a female will prefer a slower song, whereas a greater distance will generally be coupled with a higher amplitude. And blind males will prefer the faster pulse mode, suggesting that vision has some impact upon mode choice. (Separately, the female flies tend to slow their locomotion in response to slow pulse songs more so than in response to high pulse songs, at least when the male is nearby.)
Aside from entymologists and very particular perverts, who cares that there’s a new categorization for fruit fly singing? In general, fruit fly nervous systems are used as a model for simple but complete brain circuitry, and we understand a lot of what we know about neuroscience because we use flies as a model. Aside from the fact that this changes our understanding of fly courtship — and thus a great deal of how we interpret fly mating — it also demonstrates ways in which applying new computational techniques to long-held classical experiments can provide almost identical empirical results but completely different interpretations, which widen and enrich our knowledge.