Hawkmoths Blast Bats With Ultrasound From Genitals, Yes, Really

A new hawkmoth study published in science journal Nature probably has the most awesome title of all time: Hawkmoths zap bats with sonic blasts from their genitals.

A researcher once told me that entomologists drink way more than ornithologists, and now I think I might know why. Folks, that’s just plain … unusual.

Traci Morgan explained that bats and moths have been involved in what she describes as an arm race for almost 65 million years.

Bats get around by using echolocation, a sort of biological sonar which involves sending out high-pitched sounds and then listening for the echoes to orient themselves.

Researchers Jesse Barber and Akito Kawahara have now found three species of hawkmoths that respond to the bat’s ultrasound noises by making their own ultrasound clicks in response. And, yeah, they use their personal parts to make their points with the bats:

“The males did so by rapidly grating stiff scales on the outer surface of their ‘claspers’ — structures normally used to grab females during mating… Females also seem to pull part of their genitalia inwards so that genital scales rub against their abdomens.”

Why do they do that? Apparently, it’s one of those reports that reaches the conclusion that more study is needed.

It’s possible that the hawkmoths are trying to jam the bat’s sonar. Or it could be that the clicks are some kind of aggressive challenge being thrown at the bats. Some of these guys have spines on their legs, so they might be warning the bats to stay away if they don’t want to get hurt.

But right now nobody really knows for sure.

The team has even included a video of the activity in question. Mm-kay, so that’s special.

So let’s hear a round of applause for these expressive hawkmoths.

[small elephant hawkmoth photo by Darius Bauzys via Flickr, Creative Commons]