It seems you can’t keep a good moth down. They can overcome any adversity. Case in point: the University of Bristol and Natural History Museum has discovered a certain type of deaf moth has undergone a stunning transformation. Through the miracle of evolution, it has acquired an incredible sound-producing structure in its wings. The perfect diversionary tactic to outwit its most aggressive predator; the bat
Moths are no strangers to employing defensive maneuvers to evade the troublesome bat, and keep under the radar of its bio sonar, otherwise known as echolocation, mode of detection. However, a new wingbeat-powered sound producing structure using their wings is considered development in evolution.
A proportion of larger species of moth can be alerted to approaching bats by using their highly tuned ears to identify their echolocation call. Some species use hindwing tails which give off salient echoes, giving off erroneous signals for the bats to follow, like a natural decoy.
Researchers at the School of Biological Sciences in Bristol and the Natural History Museum in London were examining a smaller species of moth indigenous to the UK called the Yponomeuta, otherwise referred to as the small ermine moth, when they made a remarkable discovery.
They ascertained that, even though they could not hear, the small ermine moths made repeated clicking noises when they flew. Many species only made sounds when they noted an oncoming bat, but small ermine moths made warning sounds all the time, keeping them on a constant state of readiness.
They create sounds comparable to some larger species, which, due to a process known as acoustic aposematism, can warn bats of their own toxicity or distastefulness, in order to put them off. An unpalatable moth must give its predator an acoustic warning and research suggests small ermine moths are now imitating unpalatable sound producing moths to warn bats off.
Generally, moths create anti-bat sounds through a tiny cuticle on its body, outer coverings providing protection, called tymbals. Attached to a muscle which, when it contracts, causes the tymbal to make a clicking sound.
Studies have shown the wing-based tymbals of an Yponomeuta are not attached to a muscle. They create sound by the beat of their wings as they fly. Experts are now conducting research to discover exactly how the small ermine moth tymbal makes a sound, in the hope of reproducing it artificially, marking a breakthrough in evading bats.
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