Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


UF researcher shows hawkmoths use ultrasound to combat bats

For years, pilots flying into combat have jammed enemy radar to get the drop on their opponents. It turns out that moths can do it, too.

A new study co-authored by a University of Florida researcher shows hawkmoths use sonic pulses from their genitals to respond to bats producing the high-frequency sounds, possibly as a self-defense mechanism to jam the echolocation ability of their predators.

Echolocation research may be used to better understand or improve ultrasound as a vital tool in medicine, used for observing prenatal development, measuring blood flow and diagnosing tumors, among other things. The study appears online today in the journal Biology Letters.

Study co-author Akito Kawahara, assistant curator of Lepidoptera at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus, said ultrasound has only been demonstrated in one other moth group.

“This is just the first step toward understanding a really interesting system,” Kawahara said. “Echolocation research has been focused on porpoises, whales and dolphins. We know some insects produce the sounds, but this discovery in an unrelated animal making ultrasound, potentially to jam the echolocation of bats, is exciting.”

Hawkmoths are major pollinators and some are agricultural pests. Researchers use the insects as model organisms for genetic research due to their large size.

Previous research shows tiger moths use ultrasound as a defense mechanism. While they produce the sound using tymbals, a vibrating membrane located on the thorax, hawkmoths use a system located in the genitals. Scientists found at least three hawkmoth species produce ultrasonic sound, including females. Researchers believe hawkmoths may produce the sound as a physical defense, to warn others or to jam the bats’ echolocation, which confuses the predators so they may not identify an object or interpret where it is located, Kawahara said.

The study was conducted in Malaysia, which has the highest diversity of hawkmoths worldwide, and funded by a National Science Foundation grant of about $500,000. Kawahara also conducted research in the jungles of Borneo and the lower Amazon.

“So much work has been focused on animals that are active during the day, but there are a lot of really interesting things happening at night, and we just don’t know a lot about what is actually going on — because we can’t hear or see it,” Kawahara said. “The fascinating part is that there are a lot of new discoveries to be made. It’s a totally unknown, unexplored system.”

Kawahara’s team from the Florida Museum’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity used high-energy lamps to capture the hawkmoths in the jungle. Study co-author Jesse Barber’s team from Boise State University played pre-recorded bat sounds to the insects, and all researchers studied their behavior. With the insects tethered inside an enclosed sound rig containing an ultrasonic microphone and speaker connected to two laptop computers, researchers recorded the sounds the hawkmoths made in response to being touched and hearing the echolocation sounds. The responsive species include Cechenena lineosa, Theretra boisduvalii and Theretra nessus.

“As a museum, we are creating a library of life,” Kawahara said. “Museum specimens are usually preserved immediately, but we are trying to understand the behavior of these organisms so that we have a record of their behavior along with the specimen and DNA. This is why there are so many interesting things we’re starting to discover.”

Hawkmoths are among the fastest and most proficient flying insects, and more than 1,400 species occur worldwide. Their long proboscis, or mouthpart, makes them important pollinators, since many plants may only be pollinated by hawkmoths.

Study collaborators plan to continue researching the use of ultrasound in hawkmoths, focusing on the evolution of the insects to see if other hawkmoth species use this system, Kawahara said.

“We think hawkmoths are a primary food source for bats because none appear to be chemically defended, which is why they have evolved anti-bat ultrasound strategies,” Kawahara said. “Hawkmoths have evolved different ways of avoiding bats — I can’t even explain how amazing the system is, it is just fascinating.”


Danielle Torrent,
Akito Kawahara,, 352-273-2018

Akito Kawahara | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>