China Tree Frogs Sing Ultrasonic Duets, Study Finds

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"A male's antiphonal response is similar to the second part of a duet," said Feng, who is also affiliated with the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology.

The mating calls of these concave-eared torrent frogs "have some musical qualities," Narins added. "Whether or not you would want to dance to this, I don't know."

Hearing Aid Aid

The frogs' calls are high enough that they could even work in sonically complex urban environments. If a male and female torrent frog were to meet in a noisy disco, for example, they could still hear each other across the dance floor.

"Disco music is limited to frequencies that humans hear, nominally from 20Hz to 20kHz. If that frequency band is saturated with disco music, then by using ultrasonic frequencies, frogs should be able to communicate despite the noise," Narins explained.

He added that the new research might one day be translated into better communications technology for humans.

Feng and colleagues at the Beckman Institute had tapped previous research on frog hearing and communication to develop an intelligent, directional hearing aid, for example.

"These directional hearing aids are great in situations like crowded parties," Narins said. "With an ordinary hearing aid, the user can only turn up the volume of all the sound around him. But with a directional device, he can focus on and amplify the voice of the person next to him."

The new study was funded in part by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, one of the National Institutes of Health.

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