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Naturwissenschaften. 2008 Mar;95(3):241-5. Epub 2007 Nov 22.

Ignoring the irrelevant: auditory tolerance of audible but innocuous sounds in the bat-detecting ears of moths.

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Department of Biology, University of Toronto at Mississauga, Mississauga, Canada.


Noctuid moths listen for the echolocation calls of hunting bats and respond to these predator cues with evasive flight. The African bollworm moth, Helicoverpa armigera, feeds at flowers near intensely singing cicadas, Platypleura capensis, yet does not avoid them. We determined that the moth can hear the cicada by observing that both of its auditory receptors (A1 and A2 cells) respond to the cicada's song. The firing response of the A1 cell rapidly adapts to the song and develops spike periods in less than a second that are in excess of those reported to elicit avoidance flight to bats in earlier studies. The possibility also exists that for at least part of the day, sensory input in the form of olfaction or vision overrides the moth's auditory responses. While auditory tolerance appears to allow H. armigera to exploit a food resource in close proximity to acoustic interference, it may render their hearing defence ineffective and make them vulnerable to predation by bats during the evening when cicadas continue to sing. Our study describes the first field observation of an eared insect ignoring audible but innocuous sounds.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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