The Loh Down On Science

The moth version of rattling sabers will make you laugh

Barber & Kawahara, Biol. Lett., 2013

(a) A spectrogram of the anti-bat sound produced by Cechenena lineosa is depicted above a series of high-speed video frames (b) of the stridulatory apparatus completing a modulation cycle of the valves. (c) Lateral view of genital valve shows enlarged scales for ultrasound production. (d) A line drawing depicts the motion of the valve as it moves dorso-proximally when pulled inward and ventro-distally as it moves outward.

Can your genitals save your life?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, saying:

They can if you're a hawkmoth!

For 65 million years, the skies have hosted an ongoing clash between moths and bats.  It's one-sided, really.  Bats try to eat moths, and surviving moths pass their tricks on to their offspring.  Like ears that can detect bats.

But the most recently identified defense still seems surprising.  A duo of biologists—one from Florida, one from Idaho—recently played recordings of bats' biosonar for moths.  And the moths went nuts.

In at least three species, all from Malaysia, males moths responded to the bat-sound by rattling scales on their genitals.  That action produced an ultrasonic, high-pitched shriek with a message:  HEY BAT!  I taste TERRIBLE!

The shriek also throws an acoustic wrench into the bat's biosonar.  The confused bat finds something else to eat, and the moth lives to flap another day.

Right when it flies headlong into a tiki torch!  Moth: zero.  Malaysians: one.  Hey, you can't win 'em all.

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