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.”
Akito Kawahara | EurekAlert!
Immune Defense Without Collateral Damage
23.01.2017 | Universität Basel
The interactome of infected neural cells reveals new therapeutic targets for Zika
23.01.2017 | D'Or Institute for Research and Education
For the first time ever, a cloud of ultra-cold atoms has been successfully created in space on board of a sounding rocket. The MAIUS mission demonstrates that quantum optical sensors can be operated even in harsh environments like space – a prerequi-site for finding answers to the most challenging questions of fundamental physics and an important innovation driver for everyday applications.
According to Albert Einstein's Equivalence Principle, all bodies are accelerated at the same rate by the Earth's gravity, regardless of their properties. This...
An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...
Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
19.01.2017 | Event News
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
23.01.2017 | Health and Medicine
23.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
23.01.2017 | Process Engineering