Active echolocation enables bats to orient and hunt the night sky for insects. As a counter-measure against the severe predation pressure many nocturnal insects have evolved ears sensitive to ultrasonic bat calls. In moths bat-detection was the principal purpose of hearing, as evidenced by comparable hearing physiology with best sensitivity in the bat echolocation range, 20–60 kHz, across moths in spite of diverse ear morphology. Some eared moths subsequently developed sound-producing organs to warn/startle/jam attacking bats and/or to communicate intraspecifically with sound. Not only the sounds for interaction with bats, but also mating signals are within the frequency range where bats echolocate, indicating that sound communication developed after hearing by “sensory exploitation”. Recent findings on moth sound communication reveal that close-range (~ a few cm) communication with low-intensity ultrasounds “whispered” by males during courtship is not uncommon, contrary to the general notion of moths predominantly being silent. Sexual sound communication in moths may apply to many eared moths, perhaps even a majority. The low intensities and high frequencies explain that this was overlooked, revealing a bias towards what humans can sense, when studying (acoustic) communication in animals.
Journal of Comparative Physiology a, 2015, Vol 201, Issue 1, p. 111-121