Skip to main content

Moths whispering sweet nothings?

When I was a student of zoology at university, we used to jangle our keys and watch as a moth would suddenly plunge to the ground.   No surprise that moths would respond to sound, but what they are really responding to is the greatest threat to a moth.  It is the sound we cannot hear - the sound of a bat. 

Emitting tiny pulses of ultrasound, bats use radar - echolocation - to 'see' where they are flying and to detect their prey - moths.  But in evolution, moths have fought back in the acoustic war. It is a battle as intense and vital as the Battle of Britain in World War 2.  Moths can avoid the bat's radar.

photo courtesy of Emiko Peterson Yoon
Some eared-moths have developed sound-producing organs, warning, startling and jamming the attacking bats, and also communicating with other moths.  Many species of moth have sound-producing organs - tymbals - on the metathorax.

This a war in the sky, a battle of life and death.  But all is fair in love and war, and some moths also make love with the sound they make.

Recent studies of moth sound communication reveal that using close-range contact, with low-intensity ultrasound male moths 'whisper' sweet nothings during their courtship with a possible mate.  So, a male moth sings a love song - love me tender. 

Sexual sound communication in moths may apply to many eared-moths, perhaps even a majority. The low intensities and high frequencies explain why this was overlooked for so long. In nature, our bias leans towards what humans can sense when studying communication in animals.  But there is more to a click than meets the...ear.  A click can warn, engage, communicate, avoid, confuse, and in the dark, it can be a matter of life or death. 

Ray Noble is a Chartered Biologist and Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology. 


 


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Ian Duncan-Smith says he wants to make those on benefits 'better people'!

By any account, the government's austerity strategy is utilitarian. It justifies its approach by the presumed potential ends. It's objective is to cut the deficit, but it has also adopted another objective which is specifically targeted. It seeks to drive people off benefits and 'back to work'.  The two together are toxic to the poorest in society. Those least able to cope are the most affected by the cuts in benefits and the loss of services. It is the coupling of these two strategic aims that make their policies ethically questionable. For, by combining the two, slashing the value of benefits to make budget savings while also changing the benefits system, the highest burden falls on a specific group, those dependent on benefits. For the greater good of the majority, a minority group, those on benefits, are being sacrificed; sacrificed on the altar of austerity. And they are being sacrificed in part so that others may be spared. Utilitarian ethics considers the ba

A time for every purpose

All life moves. Or, more precisely, all life moves purposefully.  This is true even for trees and plants.  Movement is essential for maintaining life.  Animals migrate; plants disperse.  Some form of migration is an ingredient of all life.  For many organisms, it is a key function of reproduction.  We don't reproduce merely to create a new organism, but also to disperse the population - finding new fertile ground, or resources. Reproduction is a form of migration. Reproduction isn't merely to replicate. Reproduction produces change and diversity.  While we may have strong resemblences in families, we also have differences.  Creating a difference is how evolution works.  In this sense, nature is a continuous exploratory process, finding what works best.  Nature senses change and responds.  Some of this is immediate and physiological or behavioural; some of it is over generations.  If we look at a forest over long periods of time, we would see that it shifts. There is a movement

Noise pollution puts nature at risk

 "I just want a bit of peace and quiet!" Let's get away from all the hustle and bustle; the sound of endless traffic on the roads, of the trains on the railway, and the planes in the sky; the incessant drone; the noise. We live in a world of man-made noise; screeching, bellowing, on-and-on in an unmelodious cacophony.  This constant background noise has now become a significant health hazard.   With average background levels of 60 decibels, those who live in cities are often exposed to noise over 85 decibels, enough to cause significant hearing loss over time.  It causes stress, high blood pressure, headache and loss of sleep and poor health and well-being.   In nature, noise has content and significance.  From the roar of the lion, the laughing of a hyena,  communication is essential for life; as the warning of danger, for bonding as a group or a pair, finding a mate, or for establishing a position in a hierarchy - chattering works.  Staying in touch is vital to working