Wake Forest University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

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Toxic Tiger Moth

NickDowdyA battle for evolutionary dominance is raging in Arizona. Nick Dowdy, a graduate student at Wake Forest, spent his summer seeing which contender, the tiger moth or the bat, is prevailing.

While it may seem like the tiger moth would be a perennial underdog, its highly specific defensive mechanisms prove otherwise.  Carales arizonensis, a tiger moth indigenous to Arizona, uses both a chemical defense and an acoustic defense to remain ahead of the bat. The chemical defense stems from a toxin in its body that is distasteful to predators. The Carales uses the toxin in conjunction with an audible alert it broadcasts by flexing the muscles in a sound-producing organ called a tymbal. A bat can detect the series of high-pitched clicks through its sonar, and the clicks warn the approaching bat of its intended prey’s foul taste. A bat only needs to encounter the Carales arizonensis once before it learns to associate the small insect’s clicking with an unsavory meal.

Read the full story in the WFU News Center.