Hawkmoths squeak their genitals at threatening bats | Science News

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Hawkmoths squeak their genitals at threatening bats

An approaching predator inspires ultrasonic rasping in insect prey

By
11:14am, July 3, 2013

SOUNDING A DEFENSE  Reproductive structures at the rear tip of this hawkmoth (Theretra nessus) from Malaysia can create noises too high for human hearing but audible to attacking bats.

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Sonar pings from a hungry bat closing in can inspire hawkmoths to get their genitals trilling.

The ultrasonic “eeeee” of scraping moth sex organs may serve as a last-second acoustic defense, says behavioral ecologist Jesse Barber of Boise State University in Idaho. In theory, the right squeak could jam bats’ targeting sonar, remind them of a noisy moth that tasted terrible or just startle them enough for the hawkmoth to escape.

Males of at least three hawkmoth species in Malaysia squeak in response to recorded echolocation sounds of the final swoop in a bat attack, Barber and Akito Kawahara of the University of Florida in Gainesville report July 3 in Biology Letters.  

Female hawkmoths are hard to catch, but the few Barber and Kawahara have tested squeak too. Although they’re the same species as the males, they use their genitals in a different way to make

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