Structure, development, and evolution of insect auditory systems

Microsc Res Tech. 1999 Dec 15;47(6):380-400. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1097-0029(19991215)47:6<380::AID-JEMT3>3.0.CO;2-P.


This paper provides an overview of insect peripheral auditory systems focusing on tympanate ears (pressure detectors) and emphasizing research during the last 15 years. The theme throughout is the evolution of hearing in insects. Ears have appeared independently no fewer than 19 times in the class Insecta and are located on various thoracic and abdominal body segments, on legs, on wings, and on mouth parts. All have fundamentally similar structures-a tympanum backed by a tracheal sac and a tympanal chordotonal organ-though they vary widely in size, ancillary structures, and number of chordotonal sensilla. Novel ears have recently been discovered in praying mantids, two families of beetles, and two families of flies. The tachinid flies are especially notable because they use a previously unknown mechanism for sound localization. Developmental and comparative studies have identified the evolutionary precursors of the tympanal chordotonal organs in several insects; they are uniformly chordotonal proprioceptors. Tympanate species fall into clusters determined by which of the embryologically defined chordotonal organ groups in each body segment served as precursor for the tympanal organ. This suggests that the many appearances of hearing could arise from changes in a small number of developmental modules. The nature of those developmental changes that lead to a functional insect ear is not yet known.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Auditory Perception / physiology
  • Biological Evolution
  • Cockroaches / anatomy & histology
  • Cockroaches / ultrastructure
  • Coleoptera / anatomy & histology
  • Coleoptera / ultrastructure
  • Diptera / anatomy & histology
  • Diptera / ultrastructure
  • Ear / anatomy & histology
  • Ear / innervation
  • Gryllidae / anatomy & histology
  • Gryllidae / ultrastructure
  • Insecta* / anatomy & histology
  • Insecta* / classification
  • Insecta* / ultrastructure