The locust's tympanal mechanics

J.F.C. Windmill, S. Bockenhauer, T. McDonagh, D. Robert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


In the ear of the desert locust frequency analysis arises from the mechanical properties of the tympanal membrane. Incident sound is spatially decomposed into discrete frequency components through a tympanal travelling wave that funnels mechanical energy to specific tympanal locations, where distinct groups of mechanoreceptor neurones project. Initial analysis of the travelling waves employs conventional, steady state FFT, allowing a detailed analysis of the spatial composition of different frequencies onto the membrane. To further understand the exact mechanics of the tympanal travelling wave, its motion was also measured in the time domain to characterise its response to single impulse and single frequency stimuli, with a resolution of 390 ns. This allows the measurement of instantaneous wave velocity and the direct observation of wave compression across the tympanum. The locust tympanal membrane locust exploits tonotopic frequency analysis, in a similar sense to that of the travelling waves of von Békésy on the mammalian basilar membrane. However, von Békésy's wave is born from interactions between the anisotropic basilar membrane and surrounding incompressible fluids, whereas the locust's wave rides on an anisotropic membrane suspended in air. The locust's tympanum thus combines the functions of both sound reception and frequency analysis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3777
JournalJournal of the Acoustical Society of America
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2008


  • locusts
  • tympanal membrane
  • mechanoreceptor neurones
  • tympanal travelling wave
  • anisotropic membrane


Dive into the research topics of 'The locust's tympanal mechanics'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this