The selection pressure from echolocating bats has driven the development of a diverse range of anti-bat strategies in insects. For instance, several studies have proposed that the wings of some moths absorb a large portion of the sound energy contained in a bat's ultrasonic cry; as a result, the bat receives a dampened echo, and the moth becomes invisible to the bat. To test the hypothesis that greater exposure to bat predation drives the development of higher ultrasound absorbance, we used a small reverberation chamber to measure the ultrasound absorbance of the wings of nocturnal (Bombycoidea: Saturniidae) and diurnal moths (Chalcosiinae: Zygaenoidea: Zygaenidae). The absorption factor of the nocturnal saturniids peaks significantly higher than the absorption factor of the diurnal chalcosiines. However, the wings of the chalcosiines absorb more ultrasound than the wings of some diurnal butterflies. Following a phylogenetic analysis on the character state of diurnality/ nocturnality in the Zygaenidae, we propose that diurnality in the Chalcosiinae is pleisiomorphic (retained); hence, the absorbance of their wings is probably not a vestigial trait from an ancestral, nocturnal form but an adaptation to bat activity that overlaps theirs. On a within-species level, females of the saturniids Argemma mittrei and Samia cynthia ricini have significantly higher absorption factors than the males. In the female S. c. ricini, the higher absorption factor corresponds to a detection distance by bats that is at best 20-30% shorter than that of the male.
- Received September 13, 2016.
- Accepted November 30, 2016.
- © 2016. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution and reproduction in any medium provided that the original work is properly attributed.