Boogie Chillun!

Charles Darwin carried out some pretty weird experiments in his time. The dead pigeon stuffed full of seeds floating in salt water, that was one of his. So was searching for seeds in the mud on ducks' feet. But the experiment that really took the biscuit was the one in which he played music to worms. As he explains in the first chapter of The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms:

Worms do not possess any sense of hearing. They took not the least notice of the shrill notes from a metal whistle, which was repeatedly sounded near them; nor did they of the deepest and loudest tones of a bassoon. They were indifferent to shouts, if care was taken that the breath did not strike them. When placed on a table close to the keys of a piano, which was played as loudly as possible, they remained perfectly quiet.

Playing a bassoon to earthworms eighty years before anyone ever heard the name Monty Python: Charles Darwin was years ahead of his time.

Indeed he was. Imagine my delight yesterday, reading an article in New Scientist [subscribers only link] describing a number of modern-day experiments which involved playing music to animals. Here's my favourite:

Ava Chase of the Rowland Institute at Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has shown that carp can tell the difference between baroque music and John Lee Hooker, depressing a button with their snouts to indicate which is which (Animal Learning & Behavior, vol 29, p 336).

Playing baroque music and the blues to carp. Darwin (and Python) would have been delighted.

But doesn't Ms Chase realise that fish prefer sole music?

Note: The Rowland Institute website has a page about Ava Chase's fish laboratory, which contains links to videos of her carp experiments, and a copy of her paper Music discriminations by carp (Cyprinus carpio) [PDF].

Writer and photographer Richard Carter, FCD is the founder of the Friends of Charles Darwin. He lives in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.WebsiteFacebookTwitterNewsletterBooks
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