The Bestiary

Sexual Predators in Sonic Disguise

Male Asian corn borer moths mimic predatory bats to mate with females

May 26, 2010

It’s spring, and love is in the air. So, how will you win over that special lady in your life? Don’t ask the Asian corn borer moth.

The moth’s courtship ritual begins romantically enough. First, the female secretes her most alluring sex pheromones, drawing her lover near. Then the male, intoxicated by the aroma, flies to her and does his most sensual courtship dance. So far, so good.

But then things go horribly wrong. Soon, the male starts to sing—or rather, he rubs his wings against his thorax to produce a soft, whispering sound for his lover’s ears alone. Only, the song is no soothing ballad . Instead, it terrifies the female, who freeze up in fear, allowing the male to take advantage of his paralyzed mate.

According to an article in Physiological Entomology, the male moth’s song may be similar to the ultrasonic sounds of its enemies— insectivorous bats. The scientists say that the song could exploit a common bat-evasion strategy, where a moth will abruptly stop moving when it detects a bat’s sonar.

The study showed that females are not rendered motionless when they can’t hear the love song—that is, when they are surgically deafened or their mates are muted. In these cases, the female can wriggle free from her sneaky bedfellow’s embrace, resulting in fewer successful copulations.

So fellas, while this tactic might be quite effective among the world’s Asian corn borer moths, it’s not going to get you a second date. It’s also probably illegal in most states. If you’re really trying to woo your woman, I’d stick with dinner and a movie.

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About the Author

Anna Rothschild is a producer and science writer from New York City. After graduating from Brown University with a degree in biology, she worked as a scientist at the American Museum of Natural History where she cloned humpback whale genes into bacteria, lassoed lizards in Floridian forests, and detected fraud in the caviar trade. Now, she reports on everything from life science, to space, to urban legends.

Discussion

2 Comments

This is so cool — hadn’t heard about that. Will save this for lecture idea.

Ariel Bleicher says:

And it seems the corn borer moth isn’t the only creature now known to use the predator scare tactic to keep a mate: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/25/science/25obantelope.html?ref=science

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