Bats and Moths Face Off Using Ultrasound
Sheryl A. Rakowski, staff, Bacteriology Department
The University of Wisconsin-Madison just announced this year's winners of its Cool Science Image contest. After surveying 105 submissions, these 10 images were awarded. (Readers can indulge in more cool science from the university by visiting Whyfiles at http://www.whyfiles.org) This Cool Science Image winner took a close look at mold. When food gets tough to find, slime mold become social and form multicellular organisms such as those shown here.
Rick Kohrs, staff, Space Science and Engineering Center
This image shows the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere and surface temperatures on Oct. 28, 2012. Orange and red show moist air rising over warm water, which strengthens tropical storms. When storms pass over colder waters -- the blues and greens -- tropical storms begin to weaken from the lack of energy-laden moist air from the sea surface. Super storm Sandy is visible off the East Coast of the United States, gathering strength from the warm Gulf Stream waters.
Audrey Forticaux, graduate student, Chemistry Department
A scanning electron microscope captured these "nanoflowers," which are made of zinc oxide, a key semiconductor in electronics. Zinc oxide usually forms rod shapes but when it's on alumina, the oxide you see on aluminum foil, it grows into flakes and flowers.
Pui-ying Lam, graduate student, Cellular & Molecular Biology
A green fluorescent molecule lights up the nerve network in the tail fin of a live zebrafish embryo, at 40 times magnification. Special imaging software was able to join different fields of view to capture this image.
Kata Dosa, graduate student, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies
The unique, translucent fruiting structures of the money plant (Lunaria Annua) allow developing seeds to be observed.
Dr. Mo Fayyaz, faculty, Botany Department
The center of a Hoodia flower, which is native to South Africa and Namibia.
Emily Kief, undergraduate student, Botany Department
A water vapor-based imaging system captured this depiction of multiple stages of hair (trichome) growing on a very young leaf.
Peggy Boone, graduate student, Zoology Department
The larval form of the moth Automeris banus rests on a branch in Palenque National Park, Mexico. The moth inhabits tropical rain forests in Central and South America, as well as southeastern Mexico.
Christopher Coe, faculty, Psychology Department
A monkey’s brain, showing its structure and neural pathways. The resolution of this image was achieved using a 40-hour scan in a high magnetic field.
Vatsal Mehta, staff, Comparative Biosciences Department
Here Beta Catenin (CTNNB1) is induced in the prostate of transgenic mice, and cell clusters show high levels of the protein (in red). Beta Catenin is important in prostate cancer in humans and mice, and models like this one are being used to learn more about CTNNB1's role in both normal prostate development and in communication with its environment.
The rivalry, documented in the latest issue of Biology Letters, reveals how relatively tiny moths can defend themselves against bug-hungry bats.
Researchers haven’t precisely deciphered the communications, but the function of the antagonistic hawkmoth sounds might include “defense and/or jamming of echolocation,” co-authors Jesse Barber of Boise State University and Akito Kawahara of the University of Florida write.
Barber and Kawahara point out that “bats and moths have been engaged in aerial warfare for nearly 65 million years.” Over that long period, hawkmoths evolved ultrasonic bat-detecting ears. But listening for the bats isn’t enough to avoid them.
The moths “produce entirely ultrasonic sounds” when they are near bats. This cool bit of natural high tech, as the authors determined, allows the moths to warn their predators that they taste awful.
Moths might also “scream” using ultrasound when bats approach, hoping to startle the would-be killer so that the moth can fly off in a speedy getaway.
The bat, in turn, is emitting attack mode biosonar. It enables the bat to navigate and locate prey. Bats also use ultrasound for direct communication with fellow bats.
In terms of mimicry, the moths may additionally try to emit bat-like sounds, in hopes that the bat hunters will think no tasty moths are around.
Image: Seth Tisue