Saturday, 8 June 2013

Tiger Moths: Mother Nature's Fortune Tellers

June 3, 2013 — When it comes to saving its own hide, the tiger moth can predict the future.

A new study by researchers at Wake Forest University shows Bertholdia trigona, a species of tiger moth found in the Arizona desert, can tell if an echo-locating bat is going to attack it well before the predator swoops in for the kill -- making the intuitive, tiny-winged insect a master of self-preservation.

Predators in the night
A bat uses sonar to hunt at night. The small mammal emits a series of ultrasonic cries and listens carefully to the echoes that return. By determining how long it takes the sound to bounce back, the bat can figure out how far away its prey is.

Aaron Corcoran and William Conner of Wake Forest previously discovered Bertholdia trigona defends itself by jamming its predators' sonar. Conner, a professor of biology, said the tiger moth has a blister of cuticle on either side of its thorax called a tymbal. It flexes this structure to create a high-pitched, clicking sound.

The moth emits more than 4,500 clicks per second right when the bat would normally attack, jamming its sonar.

"It is the only animal in the world we know of that can jam its predator's sonar," Conner said. "Bats and tiger moths are in the midst of an evolutionary arms race."

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