Talk Moth To Me

jan262016

Did you know moths can “talk” to bats to avoid being eaten!?

In 2013 scientists showed that tiger moths emitted ultrasonic noises that jammed bats’ sonar (the method bats use to “see” in the dark called echolocation — using reflected sound waves to locate objects). When a bat flew near, the tiger moth emitted high-frequency clicks (4,500 times per second!) which disrupted the bat’s echolocation and made the moth difficult to locate. The scientists also showed that these moths were able to “hear” the bats’ echolocation, and time their own ultrasonic clicks to their predator’s attacks.

Scientists have now discovered that another group of moths, the hawk moths, also have evolved the ability to make ultrasonic clicks, although possibly for different use. Because the hawk moths produce clicks at a different frequency than that of the bats, the scientists do not believe that it would affect the bats’ echolocation as it did with the tiger moths. Hawk moths are toxic to bats, and the researchers believe that the clicks are a warning to stay away (like some insects use the color red). They showed that moths which emitted sounds were much less likely to be eaten than moths that had been silenced, which were quickly gobbled up. The bats learned after eating some of the toxic moths that the clicking noises should be avoided, and would veer away when they heard that particular noise. Scientists think that the ability to produce ultrasonic clicks has evolved over a dozen times in a variety of moth species, with perhaps many different uses. It really makes you appreciate the amazing diversity and creativity that can be found everywhere in nature, even in the most unusual places!

Want to learn more? Visit http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/01/moths-avoid-capture-talking-back-bats and http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/how-one-moth-species-can-jam-bats-sonar-systems-10208105/ for the 2013 story

Jan 26, 2016

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