Junior Explorer Club of Upper Arlington visits ant lab

How do animals communicate?

ant sketch

Morgan Oberweiser introducing animal sound activities to junior explorer club

Morgan Oberweiser introducing animal sound activities to junior explorer club

The Adams Ant Lab hosted elementary school children from the Junior Explorer Club of Upper Arlington. Recent graduate Mazie Davis and undergraduate students Andrew Mularo and Morgan Oberweiser put together a program to teach the little ones about various ways that animals communicate. First the students played a bioacoustics guessing game – they listened to some diverse audio recordings, courtesy of the Borror Lab of Bioacoustics, and tried to guess what animals they came from.

Can you tell which animals make these sounds? Look for the correct answers at the bottom of this post.

mystery sound 1:

mystery sound 2:

mystery sound 3:

Next the students learned about the use of coloration for communication. They observed camouflage in northern walking stick insects and African ghost mantises, as well as warning coloration in Peruvian black velvet stick insects and yellow banded poison dart frogs.

The last animal communication system we discussed was chemical communication. The students played a game in which they were each given a scented cotton ball (peppermint, almond, vanilla) and were tasked with sorting themselves into groups using only their noses. Then they compared their skills to those of our large Atta ant colony.

Ant colonies & fungus gardens in R Adams lab at OSU-MBD

Ant colonies & fungus gardens

The grand finale of the trip was a quick tour of the tetrapod collection lead by Dr. Katherine O’Brien. It was a joy to have such wonderful and inquisitive kids come to visit – we expect to see many of their excited faces return come next spring’s Open House (April 7, 2018)!

About the Author: Morgan Oberweiser is an undergraduate (Evolution and Ecology major) research assistant in Rachelle Adams‘ lab.

Answers to animal sound quiz: sound 1 = American alligator (chickadees scolding the alligator), sound 2 = Texas leafcutting ant, sound 3 = South American catfish

Our big day is tomorrow

Tomorrow, Saturday April 22, from 10 AM – 4 PM we will open our doors and welcome all of you to visit our hidden treasures in the natural history collections of The Ohio State University. Stop by and talk to the curators who meticulously keep these specimens and make them available to students and researchers for study throughout the year. This is your chance each year to see what we do and to support our efforts.

The event is FREE and so is parking. We will have many activities for children including face painting, the very popular bugs-in-goo, a live arthropod zoo … and this year new, for anyone over 15 years, guided sessions on scientific illustration, drawing natural history specimens.

Enjoy some photos from last year events

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The set-up for tomorrow is in full swing, here is what I have seen so far

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About the Author: Angelika Nelson is curator of the Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics and coordinates social media and outreach at the museum.

*** We hope to see you tomorrow ***

Local duets

Not only tropical birds duet with their mate, if you listen closely you can hear some of our local birds duetting, too. Or at least you may notice that female songbirds are not as silent as we often assume. Carolina Wrens Thryothorus ludovicianus and Northern Cardinals Cardinalis cardinalis are two species in which the female often joins her mate’s songs.

Carolina Wren, photo by Rich Bradley

Carolina Wren Thryothorus ludovicianus, photo by Rich Bradley

Listen to this excerpt of many hours of recordings of one pair of Carolina Wrens captured by Barbara Simpson in the North Carolina Botanical Garden, Chapel Hill on November 3, 1981 (BLB43057):

The female does not respond with the typical male-like “teakettle, teakettle, teakettle” song, but with a buzzy, rather high-pitched trill. The coordination is not as precise as in the neotropical wrens, rather in many cases the female overlaps the song of her mate. Still she communicates her presence on the territory to any listeners in the neighborhood, be it male or female Carolina Wrens.

Note the fainter song of another male Carolina Wren in-between the focal male’s songs.

Can you hear when the male switches to a different song type (not shown in spectrogram)?

spectrogram of Carolina Wrens duetting

Carolina Wrens “duetting”, the female chatter (red bar) overlaps the second song of the male (blue bar) and alternates with the third song


You may say that maybe a better example of a duetting species in our area is the Northern Cardinal.

In this common backyard species the female has a song as elaborate as that of her mate and she is often accompanied by her mate’s song. A female Northern Cardinal is easily distinguished from the male by her more subtle, brown plumage, allowing us to tell the sexes apart and notice whether a male or female is singing (In the monomorphic Carolina Wren we would have to color-mark the female to be sure that she does not also sing like her mate). Take a close look at the next Northern Cardinal that sings in your backyard, it may be a female. They are just as virtuous as the males of this species:

spectrogram of male and female Northern Cardinal duetting

Male and female Northern Cardinal duetting; note song (an accelerating trill) of the Field Sparrow in-between

Familiarize yourself with the song of the female and male Northern Cardinal in the duet above.

spectrogram of female and male Northern Cardinal song

Female (red) and male (blue) Northern Cardinal duetting

Rich Bradley recorded this pair of Northern Cardinal at the Delaware Wildlife Area on April 13, 1994 (BLB41331).

I challenge you to get outside early one morning (Sunrise in the Columbus area is around 7:30am, so depending on cloud cover birds may start singing just after 7am). Listen to the dawn chorus of birds in your neighborhood, find your closest Northern Cardinal and listen to his song – or is it a female you are listening to? If you record the song on your phone, share the recording with us!



Shuler, J. B. (1965). Duet singing in the Carolina wren. The Wilson Bulletin, 405-405.
Ritchison, G. (1986). The singing behavior of female northern cardinals. Condor, 156-159.

All bird photos by Richard A Bradley – thank you Rich!


About the Author: Angelika Nelson is the curator of the Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics and instructor for the OSU Ohio Birds class each spring.


*** We would like to hear from you – please leave a comment ***

Can we call it love song?

The early risers among us may have noticed that songbirds are singing again. For Northern Cardinals and Carolina Wrens in our gardens spring has started with the change in day length on December 21. One can really notice now that the mornings get light earlier with every day and the males of our local songbird species are getting ready for the next breeding season. They set up territory and woo females. But more about our local birds on Friday, let’s travel to the tropics!

In the tropics, birds barely take a break from singing. If conditions allow it, they will breed year-round and thus most of them keep their territory and mate. Such long-term relations call for special communications: males and females of many neo-tropical wrens sing very precisely coordinated duets. For the untrained listener it may sound like one song, that’s how closely the phrases are linked. Researchers, however, have shown that both male and female contribute to this continuous song, thus performing a duet.

Can you hear whether these are two birds singing or one?

Sandy Gaunt, curator emerita from the Borror lab and longtime volunteer, recorded these Stripe-breasted Wrens Cantorchilus thoracicus in the dense undergrowth of the tropical lowland wet forest in Costa Rica on no other day than February 14 in 1992. Sandy found these birds near the Hitoy Cerere Biological Reserve, southwest of Puerto Limon in Costa Rica, a rugged and undeveloped park with abundant wildlife.

The song of a close relative to the Stripe-breasted Wren, the Plain Wren Cantorchilus modestus zeledoni, has been studied in some detail by Karla Rivera-Cáceres from the University of Miami, Florida. These wrens perform precisely coordinated duets as you can see for yourself in the spectrogram below – a visual representation of sound with frequency or perceived pitch over time. Both males and females adjust their song and pauses between songs to coordinate with their partner. Red bars indicate the female’s contribution, bluish bars the male’s.

Spectrogram of highly coordinated Plain Wren duet

Highly coordinated duet of male and female Plain Wrens (Fig.1 in Rivera-Caceres et al 2016)

Listen to these male and female Plain Wrens duetting as recorded by Jacob R. Saucier. The recording is archived with Xeno-canto, an online collection of bird songs from around the world (XC319021).

spectrogram of Plain Wren duet (XC319021)

Duet of male and female Plain Wren as recorded by Jacob R. Saucier (XC319021).

So, shall we call this a love song? There are many hypotheses for why birds duet, one suggests that the level of coordination may signal pair bond strength, the level of commitment a mated male and female have of cooperating with one another. Other hypotheses suggest that duetting may help mates to stay in contact in dense habitat, or two singing birds may be more intimidating and thus more effective when defending a territory. Future research will show which of these hypothesis is most likely for the Stripe-breasted Wren.



Rivera-Cáceres, K. D., Quirós-Guerrero, E., Araya-Salas, M., & Searcy, W. A. (2016, November). Neotropical wrens learn new duet rules as adults. In Proc. R. Soc. B (Vol. 283, No. 1843). The Royal Society.


About the Author: Angelika Nelson is the curator of the Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics and instructor for the OSU Ohio Birds class each spring.


*** We would like to hear from you – please leave a comment ***

Interview with long-time volunteer in the Borror lab

Sandy Gaunt was the curator of the Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics until 2002 when she retired and decided to start volunteering in the lab.

Sandy Gaunt digitizing in the Borror lab

Sandy Gaunt digitizing in the Borror lab (photo A Nelson)

As an adjunct Assistant Professor of our department, Sandy did research on the syringeal structure in various bird species and has published her findings in numerous scientific journals.

In her role as a volunteer digitizer in the lab, Sandy has digitized many recordings. She was pivotal in the NSF-funded digitization project of Don Borror’s over 14,000! recordings. Lately she has digitized recordings by Arthur Borror, Don’s son. Of this collection, Sandy has to date digitized 173 cuts of 113 bird species in three different countries, Belize, Canada and USA from Arthur Borror’s collection.

Listen for yourself as Sandy tells about her favorite bird species, some bizarre recordings, some challenges and what she enjoys about working in the Borror lab:


Here are some photos and sounds of the species that Sandy mentions:

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Sandy does not only donate her time to our lab, she also makes a monetary donation each year to support student workers in the lab. We are extremely grateful for having Sandy in these capacities.


Interview by Angelika Nelson, curator of the Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics with Sandy Gaunt, long-time volunteer in the lab.

Interview with student employee in the Borror lab

Kira Edic, a Forestry, Fisheries & Wildlife major, has been a student employee in the Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics since May 2016.

Kira's digitizing station in the Borror lab

Kira’s digitizing station in the Borror lab

Kira has helped digitize recordings made by Arthur Borror, son of Don Borror, who founded the acoustics lab. To date Kira has digitized 167 cuts of 117 bird species in three different countries, Canada, Ecuador and USA, from 1995 through 1997.

Kira Edic, undergraduate student in BLBListen for yourself to find out what Kira’s favorite and most bizarre bird has been, what some of the challenges are of working in our lab, and what she enjoys most about her work:


Kira’s favorite bird is the Screaming Piha Lipaugus vociferans.

To make this recording, Arthur Borror traveled to Ecuador and stayed at the Sacha Lodge, South America’s best Primary Rainforest Amazon sanctuary. The bird itself is rather plain looking but it makes up for it with its loud, shrill call. Listen for yourself (BLB46823):

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The bizarre sound, Kira mentions, was made by a black lion tamarin Leontopithecus chrysopygus,

photo of black-lion tamarin (Wikipedia; CC BY-SA 4.0)

a critically endangered member of the lion tamarins.

Listen to the recording Kira added to the collection (BLB46605):


Kira also mentions antbirds, a large family of songbirds (passerines) that occurs across subtropical and tropical Central and South America, from Mexico to Argentina. More than 200 species are known within this family Thamnophilidae. They are generally small birds with mostly somber plumage coloration. They get their name from a peculiar behavior: These birds follow foraging army ants that regularly swarm across forest floors in Central America and feast on the hordes of fleeing insects that these ants flush into the surrounding foliage.

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Interview by Angelika Nelson, curator of the Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics with Kira Edic, undergraduate student employee in the lab.


Happy Turkey Holiday!

It’s the time of year when ONE BIRD receives all the attention, at least here in the USA: the turkey. Turkeys have been part of the human food chain for a long time, Native Americans hunted them for food and so did the first settlers. Due to unregulated hunting turkeys declined dramatically with the increasing human population. By 1904 turkeys had all but disappeared from Ohio. Today the Wild Turkey Meleagris gallopavo is again a common sight in many metro parks in Ohio. Blendon Woods, for example, has a good population that can be observed easily, often even at the feeders at the nature center.

Note the bristly “beard” extending off the chest of male turkeys and the spurs on their legs as seen in the photos above. The two males on the right are displaying and probably make some “gobbling” sounds.

As a bioacoustician I am of course most interested in the sounds these birds make. You are probably familiar with the famous “gobble” call males make in spring to attract a mate but also in response to other males calling. Here is a recording from our archive (BLB21391):

The gobble is a loud, rapid gurgling sound, it’s the turkey’s version of a rooster’s crow.

Females make quite different calls (BLB12583):

Here is an example of calls given by a juvenile female (BLB13261):

I hope this made you appreciate the diversity of turkey calls and you will listen for their calls next time you visit one of the metro parks.

All recordings are of captive birds at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, Wooster, Ohio in 1974. You can listen to the full recordings by clicking on the cut numbers above.


angelika_nelson_birdingAbout the Author: Angelika Nelson is curator of the Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics.