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Image of the Day: Acoustic Camouflage

Moths’ scales vibrate in the frequency range of bats’ echolocation calls, perhaps helping the insects to avoid predation.

Nov 14, 2018
Kerry Grens

ABOVE: 3-D X-ray computed tomography of a scale on the surface of the forewing of the cabbage tree emperor moth (Bunaea alcinoe)
IMAGE COURTESY OF MARC W. HOLDERIED AND ZHIYUAN SHEN

The “vibrodynamics” of moths’ wings might help the animals to evade bats’ echolocation, according to an analysis of the nanostructure of the wings’ scales published in PNAS on Monday (November 12). The authors made a computer model of the scales from electron microscopy images of cabbage tree emperor moth (Bunaea alcinoe) forewings. The model reveals that the scales vibrate in the frequency range of bats’ echolocation calls, thereby potentially absorbing the predators’ sound and helping the moths avoid detection.

Cabbage tree emperor moth (Bunaea alcinoe)
Image courtesy of Thomas R. Neil

Z. Shen et al., “Biomechanics of moth scales at ultrasonic frequencies,” PNAS, doi:10.1073/pnas.1810025115, 2018.

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