Data collected by the University of Tokyo recently led scientists to the hypothesis that bats influence the origin of moths’ songs and shape how honest or deceptive they are.
This idea, published in Scientific Reports, is based on experiments of two moth species. An earlier study revealed the female Asian corn borer moth (Ostrinia furnacalis) stops moving when she hears the courtship song of a male, allowing him to easily mate with her.
The female cannot distinguish between a male’s song and a bat’s call. When either sound was played from a speaker, females behaved as if they heard a bat and stayed still to avoid detection. If the male moths were muted — by removing the wing scales they rub to make songs — the females resisted their mating attempts and flew away.
By producing songs that sound like bat calls, males exploit the females’ frozen response to bats. Researchers were surprised to find female corn borers copulated when simulated bat calls were broadcast.
In contrast, studies also show that males of the Japanese lichen moth (Eilema japonica) produce a courtship song that females can distinguish from a bat’s call. This species reacts to bat calls by emitting defensive ultrasonic clicks, which might warn bats about dangerous chemicals or interfere with their sonar.
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