Saturday, 23 July 2022

Unintelligent Design - More on Moths vs Bats Arms Races

Moths enlist additional troops in an evolutionary arms race – Florida Museum Science

Evolutionary arms races are the inevitable and predictable result of evolution by natural selection, but make absolutely no sense at all as the product of intelligent design by a single designer, so they are one of the strongest arguments against Creationism of the sort preached by the Discovery Institute and its hirelings.

Where is the intelligence in designing solutions to solutions you designed earlier and which you now regard as problems to be solved?

One of these many arms races to be found in nature is that between bats and moths. Now a new research paper by scientists from Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA with colleagues from Boise State University, Boise, ID, USA, and Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas, Patagonia Norte, Ingeniero White, Argentina, has shown that arms race is even more extensive that was previously known.

Fortunately, most of this occurs at night at sound frequencies above our hearing range, or summer nights would be a deafening cacophony of sound as bats use pulses of sonar to detect their staple diet, moths, and moths use screens of sound to deter and confuse bats, rather like a warplane uses chaff to confuse radar, or warn them that they have a bitter taste or other noxious defences, in a way analogous to warning colouration used by many diurnal prey species. To complicate things further, there are examples of the auditory equivalent of Batesian mimicry, where a harmless species mimics the signals of a harmful or distasteful one.

The news release from the Florida Museum explains the research findings:

It’s not just tiger moths and hawk moths that are doing this. There are tons of moths that create ultrasonic sounds, and we hardly know anything about them.

Tiger moths have structures called tymbals, which buckle inward and outward. Some of them use structures on their wings, some use their abdomens, while others use modified genitals!

Akito Kawahara, senior author
Curator at McGuire Center for Lepidoptera & Biodiversity
Florida Museum of Natural History.
Some emit ultrasonic signals of their own that startle bats into breaking off pursuit. Many moths that contain bitter toxins avoid capture altogether by producing distinct ultrasounds that alert bats to their foul taste. Others conceal themselves in a shroud of sonar-jamming static that makes them hard to find with bat echolocation.

While effective, these types of auditory defense mechanisms in moths are considered relatively rare, known only in tiger moths, hawk moths and a single species of geometrid moth. But a new study published in the journal PNAS shows that ultrasound-producing moths are far more widespread than previously thought, adding three newly discovered sound-producing organs, eight new subfamilies and potentially thousands of species to the roster.

Species across the moth tree of life have independently evolved the ability to produce ultrasonic noises in widely different ways, often as a means of avoiding hungry bats.

Figure by Baber, et al (2022) in PNAS, (CC-BY-NC-ND)
The researchers were also interested in understanding how these sounds might converge between moth species. In the same way that non-toxic butterflies mimic the colors and wing patterns of less savory species, moths that lack the benefit of built-in toxins can copy the pitch and timbre of genuinely unappetizing relatives.

After collecting and studying thousands of moths for over a decade in Ecuador, French Guiana, Mozambique and Malaysian Borneo, the researchers spent a final two weeks in Ecuador, where they recorded the alarm calls of every moth they could catch. Afterward, they analyzed these recordings with the help of a theoretical physicist and a machine learning algorithm that scrutinized each note, looking for similarities.

The program revealed what, up until now, other researchers had only guessed at: Moth species don’t act like individual composers, each with their own unique calling card and distinct style. Instead, a small number of moths derive their own scores, which other moths seem to replicate in complex acoustic mimicry rings.

Moths and butterflies are collectively one of the most diverse groups on the planet, containing one of every 10 named animals. If these results pan out, it will likely be the largest set of mimicry complexes on Earth

Pofessor Jesse Barber, lead author
Professor of Biology
Department of Biological Sciences
Boise State University, Boise, ID, USA
Lead author Jesse Barber, a biology professor at Boise State University, says more work is needed to uncover the exact nature of these sounds, but he suspects the trailblazing moths at the center of these rings are likely noxious, while the copycats at the fringes are merely false advertisers.

These ultrasonic warning systems seem so useful for evading bats that they’ve evolved independently in moths on multiple separate occasions. In each case, moths transformed a different part of their bodies into finely tuned organic instruments.
More detail is given in the abstract to the team's paper in PNAS:

Moths have been evading echolocating bat attack for tens of millions of years. Here, we show that the ultrasonic defensive sounds of moths are, in fact, widespread across the planet and the tree of life. Our decade-long investigation reveals that perhaps 20% of moths produce anti-bat sounds, with at least 6 independent origins of sonar-jamming behavior and more than 10 origins of acoustic aposematism (warning of noxious taste). The sheer number of lepidopterans that produce ultrasonic warning sounds indicates that moth acoustic emissions might create the most diverse mimicry rings (groups of species that converge on similar warning signals) on Earth. Comprehending this ultrasonic symphony is central to understanding insect biodiversity.


Warning signals are well known in the visual system, but rare in other modalities. Some moths produce ultrasonic sounds to warn bats of noxious taste or to mimic unpalatable models. Here, we report results from a long-term study across the globe, assaying moth response to playback of bat echolocation. We tested 252 genera, spanning most families of large-bodied moths, and document anti-bat ultrasound production in 52 genera, with eight subfamily origins described. Based on acoustic analysis of ultrasonic emissions and palatability experiments with bats, it seems that acoustic warning and mimicry are the raison d'être for sound production in most moths. However, some moths use high-duty-cycle ultrasound capable of jamming bat sonar. In fact, we find preliminary evidence of independent origins of sonar jamming in at least six subfamilies. Palatability data indicate that jamming and warning are not mutually exclusive strategies. To explore the possible organization of anti-bat warning sounds into acoustic mimicry rings, we intensively studied a community of moths in Ecuador and, using machine-learning approaches, found five distinct acoustic clusters. While these data represent an early understanding of acoustic aposematism and mimicry across this megadiverse insect order, it is likely that ultrasonically signaling moths comprise one of the largest mimicry complexes on earth.

Barber, Jesse R.; Plotkin, David; Rubin, Juliette J.; Homziak, Nicholas T.; Leavell, Brian C.; Houlihan, Peter R.; Miner, Krystie A.; Breinholt, Jesse W.; Quirk-Royal, Brandt; Padrón, Pablo Sebastián; Nunez, Matias; Kawahara, Akito Y.
Anti-bat ultrasound production in moths is globally and phylogenetically widespread
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), 119
(25); e2117485119, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2117485119.

Copyright: © 2022 The authors.
Published by PNAS. Open access
Reprinted under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License 4.0 (CC BY-NC-ND).
As always on this blog, creationists, especially advocates of intelligent [sic] design are invited to explain these finding. In particular:
  1. Where in this paper is there evidence that the Theory of Evolution is a theory in crisis, as Creationists claim, because it is inadequate to explain the observable facts?
  2. How can biological arms races between predators and prey species and between parasites and host species be explained as the intelligent design of a single designer?

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