In a new study published in the journal PNAS, researchers found that there are more species of moths that produce sounds to fend off predators, such as bats, at night. They also discovered three new sound-producing organs in moths than previously thought.
“It’s not just tiger moths and hawk moths that are doing this. There are tons of moths that create ultrasonic sounds, and we hardly know anything about them,” said Senior Author Akito Kawahara, a curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera & Biodiversity.
The researchers also compared how these sounds converge between different moth species. They noted that moth species that lack natural defense sounds can mimic the pitch and timber of their relatives. This ability makes the number of moths with sound mimicry capacity larger than thought before.
The research has been ongoing for over a decade, with data collected from Ecuador, Mozambique, French Guiana and Malaysia Borneo. The data was then analyzed with the help of theoretical physicists and machine learning. The researchers scrutinized each sound not to find similarities and differences.
“Moths and butterflies are collectively one of the most diverse groups on the planet, containing one of every 10 named animals. If these results pan out, it will likely be the largest set of mimicry complexes on Earth,” said Professor of Biology Jesse Barber at the Boise State University.
Moreover, the mimicry observed goes beyond the moth species. Most of the insects under study were found to produce some kind of sound that could be mimicked.
“These mimicry complexes are likely not just limited to moths,” Kawahara said. “The whole tapestry of nocturnal insect life is probably involved, but the chance to understand the natural world is going away. So many lineages are going extinct that we’re likely in the last golden age of biology.”
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