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J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2007 Jun;193(6):577-90. Epub 2007 Apr 13.

Neuroethology of ultrasonic hearing in nocturnal butterflies (Hedyloidea).

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Department of Biology, Carleton University, 1125 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa, ON, Canada, K1S 5B6.


Nocturnal Hedyloidea butterflies possess ultrasound-sensitive ears that mediate evasive flight maneuvers. Tympanal ear morphology, auditory physiology and behavioural responses to ultrasound are described for Macrosoma heliconiaria, and evidence for hearing is described for eight other hedylid species. The ear is formed by modifications of the cubital and subcostal veins at the forewing base, where the thin (1-3 microm), ovoid (520 x 220 microm) tympanal membrane occurs in a cavity. The ear is innervated by nerve IIN1c, with three chordotonal organs attaching to separate regions of the tympanal membrane. Extracellular recordings from IIN1c reveal sensory responses to ultrasonic (>20 kHz), but not low frequency (<10 kHz) sounds. Hearing is broadly tuned to frequencies between 40 and 80 kHz, with best thresholds around 60 dB SPL. Free flying butterflies exposed to ultrasound exhibit a variety of evasive maneuvers, characterized by sudden and unpredictable changes in direction, increased velocity, and durations of approximately 500 ms. Hedylid hearing is compared to that of several other insects that have independently evolved ears for the same purpose-bat detection. Hedylid hearing may also represent an interesting example of evolutionary divergence, since we demonstrate that the ears are homologous to low frequency ears in some diurnal Nymphalidae butterflies.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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