Two crickets

A dangerous new virus highlights the need for safer sex in crickets.

Tonight’s video is “How do we smell?” from TED-Ed. We smell terrible, of course.

An adult human can distinguish up to 10,000 odors. You use your nose to figure out what to eat, what to buy and even when it’s time to take a shower. But how do the molecules in the air get translated into smells in your brain? Rose Eveleth charts the smelly journey through your olfactory epithelium and explains why scent can be so subjective.

Lesson by Rose Eveleth, animation by Igor Coric.

Vice reports on a sexually transmitted infection that makes crickets want more sex before it kills them:

Shelley Adamo, a researcher at Dalhousie University, says she accidentally found the virus—officially dubbed IIV-6/CrIV—while conducting an unrelated experiment with bearded dragon reptiles and some of the crickets from her lab colony. Not long after the experiment, what Adamo says looked like perfectly healthy female crickets stopped laying eggs. So she sliced one open to figure out what was going on.

‘When I opened her up, I was shocked, because usually females are packed with eggs,’ Adamo says. ‘These females had no eggs. Instead, they were packed with fat tissue. Not only that, the fat tissue looked a little odd. It had this iridescent blue sheen to it, so I knew something was really wrong.’

[...] What she and her team found was a strain of something called iridovirus, known for its ability to turn bug innards different colors. She took the lead on a report called ‘A viral aphrodisiac in the cricket Gryllus texensis,’ which shows how the virus uses the crickets’ courting rituals to spread.

Here’s how cricket lovemaking usually works: In the wild, a guy cricket will start rubbing his wings together around dusk to create a sound that draws in the ladies. (This part of the process is done artificially in Adamo’s lab by putting the crickets in a breeding bin together.) If a lady cricket walks his way, the two insects will feel each other up with their antennae. ‘They have chemical receptors in their antennae, so they’re sort of tasting each other to see if they’re the right species and good mates for each other,’ Adamo says.

Once the antennae foreplay wraps up, the male cricket will start singing a different tune for the female called the courtship song. This is the part where he’s trying to get the lady cricket to mount him. If she decides to hop on, Adamo says the guy cricket will give her ‘a little pouch of sperm.’

In Adamo’s experiments, the infected male lab crickets were much quicker to start singing the courtship song than the healthy males. In fact, it took the sick crickets only about three minutes to start singing their sexy tune, as opposed to the ten minutes it took the healthy guys to heat things up. ‘It was quite a striking difference,’ she says. However, she says she doesn’t know how the virus manages to do this. According to the report, the virus spreads through the heavy petting that goes on before and during coitus. Adamo says she suspects that like other iridoviridae, the virus gets in to the crickets through their mouths.

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Photo by Hugo A. Quintero G. under a Creative Commons license.