Talk about a multi-purpose tool. Several species of tropical moth can rasp their genitals against their abdomens to beam loud ultrasound signals at approaching bats, possibly throwing the hunters off course1.
Bats and moths have been engaged in a natural arms race for nearly 65 million years, each evolving strategies to outwit the other. Scientists have long known that members of the tiger moth family blast bats with ultrasound signals resembling the echolocation calls bats make as they search for, or close in on, prey. But tiger moths were assumed to be the only moth group able to imitate the bats’ signals.
Behavioural ecologist Jesse Barber of Boise State University in Idaho and phylogeneticist Akito Kawahara of the University of Florida in Gainesville went to Borneo to try their luck with hawkmoths, a large family of excellent flyers, many of which are found in the tropics. After luring them with lights, the researchers grabbed the spiny-legged insects by hand — “We suffered quite a few punctured fingers getting good at it,” Barber says — and trussed them up in harnesses made from fishing line and drinking straws.