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Hawkmoths squeak their genitals at threatening bats

Hawkmoths squeak their genitals at threatening bats

The ultrasonic eeeee of scraping moth sex organs may serve as a lastsecond 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 theyre the same species as the males, they use their genitals in a different way to make ultrasound. Squeak power may have arisen during courtship and later proved useful during attacks.

Until now, researchers knew of only two insect groups that talk back to bats: some tiger moths and tiger beetles. Neither is closely related to hawkmoths, so Barber speculates that antibat noises might be widespread among insects.