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Biol Open. 2017 Jan 15;6(1):109-117. doi: 10.1242/bio.021782.

The anti-bat strategy of ultrasound absorption: the wings of nocturnal moths (Bombycoidea: Saturniidae) absorb more ultrasound than the wings of diurnal moths (Chalcosiinae: Zygaenoidea: Zygaenidae).

Author information

1
Centre for Ultrasonic Engineering, Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, University of Strathclyde, 204 George Street, Glasgow, G1 1XW, UK an478@cam.ac.uk.
2
Centre for Ultrasonic Engineering, Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, University of Strathclyde, 204 George Street, Glasgow, G1 1XW, UK.

Abstract

The selection pressure from echolocating bats has driven the development of a diverse range of anti-bat strategies in insects. For instance, several studies have proposed that the wings of some moths absorb a large portion of the sound energy contained in a bat's ultrasonic cry; as a result, the bat receives a dampened echo, and the moth becomes invisible to the bat. To test the hypothesis that greater exposure to bat predation drives the development of higher ultrasound absorbance, we used a small reverberation chamber to measure the ultrasound absorbance of the wings of nocturnal (Bombycoidea: Saturniidae) and diurnal moths (Chalcosiinae: Zygaenoidea: Zygaenidae). The absorption factor of the nocturnal saturniids peaks significantly higher than the absorption factor of the diurnal chalcosiines. However, the wings of the chalcosiines absorb more ultrasound than the wings of some diurnal butterflies. Following a phylogenetic analysis on the character state of diurnality/ nocturnality in the Zygaenidae, we propose that diurnality in the Chalcosiinae is plesiomorphic (retained); hence, the absorbance of their wings is probably not a vestigial trait from an ancestral, nocturnal form but an adaptation to bat activity that overlaps their own. On a within-species level, females of the saturniids Argema mittrei and Samia cynthia ricini have significantly higher absorption factors than the males. In the female S. c. ricini, the higher absorption factor corresponds to a detection distance by bats that is at best 20-30% shorter than that of the male.

KEYWORDS:

Chalcosiinae; Moth; Predation-driven sexual dimorphism; Predator-prey interactions; Saturniidae; Ultrasound absorption

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no competing or financial interests.

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