Navigation Links
UF researcher shows hawkmoths use ultrasound to combat bats

GAINESVILLE, Fla. 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."


Contact: Akito Kawahara
University of Florida

Related biology news :

1. UCLA researchers find new clue to cause of human narcolepsy
2. GW researcher discovers new regulatory autism gene
3. Researchers discover new way to block inflammation
4. Researchers call for rethinking efforts to prevent interplanetary contamination
5. Northwestern researchers examine mechanical bases for the emergence of undulatory swimmers
6. Researchers determine factors that influence spinach contamination pre-harvest
7. Researchers discover how a mutated protein outwits evolution and fuels leukemia
8. CNIO researchers discover a new gene involved in obesity
9. Too green to be true? Researchers develop highly effective method for converting CO2 into methanol
10. UMass Amherst researchers develop powerful new technique to study protein function
11. U-M researcher and colleagues predict possible record-setting Gulf of Mexico dead zone
Post Your Comments:
(Date:11/12/2015)... LONDON , Nov. 11, 2015   ... and reliable analytical tools has been paving the ... and qualitative determination of discrete analytes in clinical, ... sensors are being predominantly used in medical applications, ... and environmental sectors due to continuous emphasis on ...
(Date:11/9/2015)... , Nov. 09, 2015 ... addition of the "Global Law Enforcement ... offering. --> ) has ... Law Enforcement Biometrics Market 2015-2019" report ... and Markets ( ) has announced ...
(Date:10/29/2015)... , Oct. 29, 2015   MedNet Solutions ... the entire spectrum of clinical research, is pleased to ... High Tech Association (MHTA) as one of only three ... the "Software – Small and Growing" category. The Tekne Awards ... who have shown superior technology innovation and leadership. ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/25/2015)... QUEBEC CITY , Nov. 25, 2015 /PRNewswire/ ... "Company"), affirms that its business and prospects remain ... , Zoptrex™ (zoptarelin doxorubicin) recently received DSMB ... program to completion following review of the final ... met Phase 2 Primary Endpoint in men with ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... 2015  Asia-Pacific (APAC) holds the third-largest share ... The trend of outsourcing to low-cost locations is ... volume share for the region in the short ... in the CRO industry will improve. ... ), finds that the market earned revenues ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... November 24, 2015 , ... Copper is an essential ... bound to proteins, copper is also toxic to cells. With a $1.3 million ... (WPI) will conduct a systematic study of copper in the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... ... This fall, global software solutions leader SAP and AdVenture Capital brought together dozens ... BIG ideas to improve health and wellness in their schools. , Now, the top ... of SAP's Teen Innovator, an all-expenses paid trip to Super Bowl 50, and an ...
Breaking Biology Technology: