FR22t: Why We Animals Sing



We do not sing alone. On land, four kinds of animals produce songs or calls: birds, frogs, mammals, and insects. Some of these (and fish) also do so underwater. The principal sounds such animal species make are signaling behaviors directly related to mating success. They are of individuals, usually males, marking territories, and wooing mates. However, in any one location, species may also compete with one another for occupation of acoustic space (that is, for bandwidth) and otherwise optimize their sound signals to features of their environment. We will explore these topics and others as we listen to and read about each of the various kinds of singers on earth, the biology of their sound production and reception, and the ways they attract mates while avoiding becoming meals for eavesdropping predators.

We will listen to many different kinds of acoustic signalers across a wide array of acoustic communities in tropical and temperate settings, both terrestrial and aquatic, and we will examine sound spectra on a large screen as we listen and slow down and isolate sounds to help distinguish their parts. Finally, we will consider the biology and evolution of music in humans, considering evidence from brain studies, archaeology and anthropology, and the music of indigenous peoples. We will look at music parallels in different kinds in animals of other species. There will be field trips to listen to and record assemblages of local species.

The overall objective is to awaken the students’ sense, understanding, and appreciation of the acoustic environment from which we come, and the role of this environment in shaping human biology and culture. There is a fair bit of reading required in preparation for weekly discussions. Accordingly, participation will be expected for discussion of the readings and listening experiences.