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Open Access Open Badges Methodology article

Multi-channel acoustic recording and automated analysis of Drosophila courtship songs

Benjamin J Arthur12, Tomoko Sunayama-Morita234, Philip Coen56, Mala Murthy56* and David L Stern234*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Neurobiology & Behavior, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14850, USA

2 Janelia Farm Research Campus, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Ashburn, VA 20147, USA

3 Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544 USA

4 Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544 USA

5 Princeton Neuroscience Institute, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544, USA

6 Department of Molecular Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544 USA

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BMC Biology 2013, 11:11  doi:10.1186/1741-7007-11-11

Published: 31 January 2013



Drosophila melanogaster has served as a powerful model system for genetic studies of courtship songs. To accelerate research on the genetic and neural mechanisms underlying courtship song, we have developed a sensitive recording system to simultaneously capture the acoustic signals from 32 separate pairs of courting flies as well as software for automated segmentation of songs.


Our novel hardware design enables recording of low amplitude sounds in most laboratory environments. We demonstrate the power of this system by collecting, segmenting and analyzing over 18 hours of courtship song from 75 males from five wild-type strains of Drosophila melanogaster. Our analysis reveals previously undetected modulation of courtship song features and extensive natural genetic variation for most components of courtship song. Despite having a large dataset with sufficient power to detect subtle modulations of song, we were unable to identify previously reported periodic rhythms in the inter-pulse interval of song. We provide detailed instructions for assembling the hardware and for using our open-source segmentation software.


Analysis of a large dataset of acoustic signals from Drosophila melanogaster provides novel insight into the structure and dynamics of species-specific courtship songs. Our new system for recording and analyzing fly acoustic signals should therefore greatly accelerate future studies of the genetics, neurobiology and evolution of courtship song.

courtship song; Drosophila; evolution; genetics; multi-channel recording; neurobiology; song segmentation software