Our Music Affects Nature, by Kansas Stanton

I grew up with two older siblings who were very musically inclined. One was a prodigy that could play the Star Wars theme song as a child perfectly on piano after simply hearing it (as well as on several other instruments), and the other sibling who was constantly performing with string instruments at various orchestral recitals at least once a month.  And I perfected the music of chopping my voice up in the box fan. It was very impressive!

I remember when my siblings would practice on our piano, our dog would come over and just lay down under the bench. Our parakeets always chirped along with my sister’s violin and I swear even the goldfish swam in rhythm to the acoustic guitar. My mother would say it was proof that music was god’s gift to mankind for all his creations clearly enjoyed it. I kinda always thought it was just vibrations, but I let her have her moment. Regardless, it’s not just schnauzers and parakeets that are influenced by a tune; other animals can be affected, as well.

In March, researchers have discovered that playing Skrillex’s electronic music around mosquitos prevents them from having as much sex and from feeding as much. The team was looking for environmental alternatives to insecticides for areas where mosquitos commonly deliver Zika virus and dengue fever. The project was set up with two cages with each containing 10 female mosquitos that had not fed for twelve-straight hours; one poor, edible hamster; and one very lucky virgin male mosquito. I’m not sure what followed would be entertaining to witness or horrific. In one of these cages, however, the researchers blared the Skrillex song, Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites (which I’m sure the hamster would just shorten to Scary Monsters) and the other cage remained totally silent. The song was chosen for its excessive loudness and constantly escalating pitch which made it the perfect candidate for “noisiness,” the team wrote. In comparison to the two cages, the researchers found that the noisy cage caused significantly reduced mating and feeding behavior than the more silent cage. Even though the females had not fed for twelve hours, the distraction of vibrations coming from Skrillex prevented them from looking for food for a good 2-3 minutes- whereas in the silent cage, the hamster had about 30 seconds to scream. Once the prey was found, the Skrillex mosquitos also made fewer attempts to suck blood versus the silent mosquitos. As far as the lucky males go, the male Skrillex mosquito was not so lucky with about five times less sex than the mosquitoes flying in silence. This is because mosquitos harmonize their wing vibrations in flight to find potential partners. Obviously, this is disrupted when they’re trying to get it on at a nightclub; sending vibrations all over the place. This “noise pollution” has been found to also affect other insects’ behaviors, like when beetles hear AC/DC’s Back to Black, they eat less aphids.

Others in the animal kingdom who are influenced by noise pollution are the marine mammals who use echolocation to find food, partners, and safety like with Killer Whales and dolphins. Submarines, offshore oil drilling, and industrialization can add underwater noise pollution that restricts these species from living a healthy life. In a controlled and humane way, however, underwater music can be beneficial- like with luring sharks for research purposes. Instead of using bait to lure the shark, which could result in sharks feeling safer to approach humans, marine biologists will use death metal music through underwater speakers to attract them. This is because the vibrations coming from the double bass drumming that is typical of death metal feels like a caught and struggling prey trying to release itself from some snare. Thus, the shark feels this and comes for its supposed dinner, unknowingly.

And speaking of heavy metal music, physics students, Matt Bierbaum and Jesse Silverberg from Cornell University were inspired by the basic rules of the movement of molecules in a gas and wondered if something could relate to that with metalheads in a mosh pit or a circle pit at a heavy metal concert. Frequenting various types of metal shows and recording the moshing that would occur at these, they were able to reproduce a simulation of metalheads in mosh pits (random and disorderly in pattern) and circle pits (fast and sporadic movements in a circle pattern). The result were consistently basic mathematical rules that, according to Andreas Bausch, a researcher at the Munich Technical University in Germany, can also be applied to flocks of birds and schools of fish. So, sometimes your elderly is right: sometimes rock n’ roll is a bunch of noise pollution! But sometimes it’s the most natural sound. Perhaps it’s not the music that attracts or distracts the animal kingdom, like my mother so piously believed. Maybe it’s the music that allows us to be more like the animal kingdom that we secretly strive to be closer to.

References:

https://www.npr.org/2013/03/22/174962714/mosh-pit-math-physicists-analyze-rowdy-crowd

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/death-metal-music-attracts-sharks-documentary-crew-finds-out-10381295.html

https://www.livescience.com/65125-mosquitoes-dont-care-for-skrillex.html

Kansas Stanton

Kansas Stanton is a Neo-Pagan who resides in Seattle, Washington. He belongs to, and practices with, a local group of Reform Pagans and blogs at https://leavesontheroad.wordpress.com/. He also volunteers every year at the Esoteric Book Conference in Seattle and regularly attends various Pagan festivals and events.

He is a full-time student, earning his degree in Environmental Science and a Certificate in Sustainability, after which time he will move on to grad school (climate science). When Kansas is not in class or working his job in the art industry, he also attends heavy metal concerts both locally and internationally. He is also a vegan outdoorsman who frequents the trails and whitewater rivers of the pacific northwest and loves to spend his time with friends over a cold, dark beer.

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