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Moths Use Genitals to Defend against Bat Attacks [VIDEO]

Jul 03, 2013 12:42 PM EDT
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A hawkmoth
Hawkmoths, a tasty bite to eat for predacious bats, have evolved an arsenal of defenses and adaptations to help them avoid capture, including an ultrasonic defense that throws the bats off course.
(Photo : Boise State University )

Hawkmoths, a tasty bite to eat for predacious bats, have evolved an arsenal of defenses and adaptations to help them avoid capture, including an ultrasonic defense that throws the bats off course.

Researchers from Boise State University and the University of Florida documented hawkmoths emitting ultrasonic blasts from their genitals that resemble the same echolocation noises made by bats.

The research adds to the canon of knowledge of moths and their defense mechanisms; previously only tiger moths were the only known species to imitate bat signals.

Tiger moth defense signals have been shown to startle bats, warn the predators of a bad taste and jam their bisonar.

Researchers captured three species of hawkmoth from the forests of Borneo and strung them up with fishing line in a way that allowed the moths to fly tethered. When presented with audio of bat ultrasound, the moths emitted their own ultrasound noises in response by rubbing their genitals against their abdomens.

"The broader implication of this finding is that anti-bat sound production might be widespread," said Jesse Barber, assistant professor of biological sciences at Boise State.

"It seems likely that many different insect groups are responding to bats with ultrasonic signals."

The exact function of the hawkmoths' ultrasonic defense remains unclear, but it likely works in a similar fashion to the tiger moths' sonic defense system.

Barber told Nature that the ultrasonic defense is "a really good strategy for insects to deploy."

Barber and his colleagues' research is published in the journal Biology Letters.

 

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