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Recording studio

Technical information

The ‘Recording Studio’In order to be able to record planthopper vibration signals a practical ‘Recording Studio’ will have to be set up in which a number of technical requirements have to be taken care of. A first requirement is a suitable and stable plant substrate on which a test planthopper will settle, and from which possible acoustic signals can be picked up as substrate vibrations. Ideally, a part of the natural foodplant will serve as a suitable substrate, but often parts of other available plant species may also be used successfully. For recording most species of Dutch planthoppers fresh stems of the grass Agrostis tenuis were used. For the quality of the recordings to be made the vibration transmitting properties of the plant substrate are probably more important than its possible suitability as a foodplant. To keep the plant substrate fresh during a recording session it should be able to take up water, which will be most effectively realized when a plant part is selected that still has some of its roots available. After the plant stem is placed in a small glass vial, partly filled with water, it is then kept firmly in position by filling the glass vial to the top with a finely grained sand, while taking care that the plant stem remains positioned in the centre of the glass vial. Alternatively a plant stem may also be kept in position by inserting it through a slit in a piece of synthetic foam which has been cut into a shape that fits tightly in the openening of the glass vial. In order to be able to keep the vial with plant substrate in a stable but adjustable position, a larger pot filled with (dry) sand may serve as a solid basis in to which the glass vial may be pressed deep enough to remain standing firmly.A further requirement is the availability of a device that is able to pick up substrate vibrations from the plant substrate, and to transform them into an electrical signal. Although various vibration transducing techniques have been described in the scientific literature, the most simple and cheap technique is by using an ordinary magneto-dynamic grammophone cartridge. The grammophone cartridge can best be placed in a fixed position in such a way that the recording substrate can be brought in contact with the cartridges’ needle by gently moving the pot in which the glass vial is standing. In order to bring the grammophone cartridge in a suitable fixed position it should be mounted or clamped on a stable stand. To be able to record its electrical signal the output of the grammophone cartridge first has te be fed into a pre-amplifier which can be of a simple battery operated type. Note 1: All electrical connections and cables need to be properly shielded from disturbing electro-magnetic noise sources (especially 50 Hz humming noise can be very disturbing).Note 2: A grammophone cartridge will be able to produce a stereo signal and thus have two separate outputs. For our purpose there is no need to keep the outputs separated, and thus they may both be connected to the same ‘mono’ cable.The third requirement is a recording device in order to store the analogue electrical signal for further processing and study. This, of course, can be done by using a classical (reel- or cassette-) taperecorder, but it can also be done by feeding the analogue signal directly into a computer and have the signal converted into its digital form by means of a standard soundcard. In the latter case it will be necessary to make use of a software program that allows to have control over the recording process and further editing of the digitized signals. Apart from commercially available software (such as ‘Avisoft Bioacoustics’,or ‘Magix Music Cleaning Lab’) there is also freely available software (such as ‘Audacity’). Since it is known that temperature has a significant effect on important properties of the signals produced (especially ‘tempo’ and ‘pitch’), there should be a thermometer available that allows to monitor the (air) temperature in the direct vicinity of the insect during recording.Finally some measures have to be taken to arrange the whole setup in a way that enables a practical way of operating. Ideally, the ‘Recording Studio’ should be situated in a place where there is minimal influence from external vibration sources (such as traffic, machinery, footsteps, loud voices, etc.).

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Insect Drummers

Website on bioacoustic vibration signals of planthoppers & leafhoppers