This Moth’s Love Song Has a Dual Meaning

When love is in the air for certain moth species, the female secretes a pheromone to signal that she’s ready to make little moths. An interested male will approach and “sing” her a courtship song composed of a series of ultrasonic pulses. 

Some types of moth use a “true” song that woos the female into giving the male access to her genitalia. Some other species, meanwhile, lie to get sex. They produce a deceptive song that mimics the echolocation calls of a hunting bat. The female, thinking there’s a predator around, freezes, which allows the male to mate with her even if she’s not interested in him. 

Now, scientists in Japan have found a moth that combines the two types, and makes a love song and a lie rolled into one. The yellow peach moth’s courtship song is a made up of a few short pulses followed by a longer one. The long pulse, the researchers found, is attractive to females and hearing it causes them to get into their mating position, like a “true” courtship song. The short pulses are similar to the deceptive songs, and sound, to a moth, like the hunting calls of bats. 

The peach moth isn’t trying to frighten his potential mate like the other liars, though. His deception is aimed at his competition. The researchers found that the short pulses didn’t really affect the female moths. When they heard it, they didn’t move into a mating position, and didn’t freeze or change their behavior in other ways, either. When other males flitting about heard the short pulses, however, they changed their flight patterns and stopped following the trail of the females’ pheromones—the same way they did when they heard a recording of a hunting bat. 

The peach moth’s courtship song kills two birds with one stone. The short, bat-like pulses scare off other males so that the first one who reaches a female and starts singing doesn’t have to deal with any competitors. With the rival suitors scrambling for safety instead of heading towards the female, the crooning moth has her to himself, and the long pulse that ends his song put her in the mood for love. 

Slow Motion Is the Only Way to Appreciate a Chameleon’s Lightning-Fast Tongue

From the unusual way they walk, to their ability to change color, the evolutionary adaptations of chameleons are pretty bizarre, and some of them remain mysterious even to scientists. Their super-powered tongues, for instance, can dart out so quickly that the movement can barely be seen with the naked eye. But modern high-speed cameras have enabled researchers at the University of South Dakota to observe this appendage at work like never before. The video below, shared over at The Kid Should See This, includes some of that groundbreaking footage, and it's pretty amazing to watch.

Shooting at 3000 frames per second, the camera was able to capture every split-second aspect of the chameleon's tongue strike. Slowed down, the video allows you to see how every component of the process works in harmony: First, muscles in the lizard’s tongue contract like the string of a bow. Then, when that tension is released, the bony base of the tongue shoots forward, pushing the sticky, elastic part toward the chameleon’s prey.

According to Christopher Anderson, one of the scientists who conducted the high-speed camera research, larger chameleons can catapult their tongues forward at distances of one to two times their body length. For smaller chameleons, this distance can reach up to two and a half times their body length. “Small chameleons need to be able to eat more food for their body size than large chameleons,” he tells bioGraphic in the video, “and so by being able to project their tongues proportionately further than these large species, they basically are opening up additional feeding opportunities to themselves that they wouldn’t have if they had a shorter tongue.”

To see one of nature’s greatest hunting tools in action, check out the full video below.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

There May Be an Ancient Reason Why Your Dog Eats Poop

Dogs aren't known for their picky taste in food, but some pups go beyond the normal trash hunting and start rooting around in poop, whether it be their own or a friend's. Just why dogs exhibit this behavior is a scientific mystery. Only some dogs do it, and researchers aren't quite sure where the impulse comes from. But if your dog is a poop eater, it's nearly impossible to steer them away from their favorite feces.

A new study in the journal Veterinary Medicine and Science, spotted by The Washington Post, presents a new theory for what scientists call "canine conspecific coprophagy," or dogs eating dog poop.

In online surveys about domestic dogs' poop-eating habits completed by thousands of pet owners, the researchers found no link between eating poop and a dog's sex, house training, compulsive behavior, or the style of mothering they received as puppies. However, they did find one common link between the poop eaters. Most tended to eat only poop that was less than two days old. According to their data, 85 percent of poop-eaters only go for the fresh stuff.

That timeline is important because it tracks with the lifespan of parasites. And this led the researchers to the following hypothesis: that eating poop is a holdover behavior from domestic dogs' ancestors, who may have had a decent reason to tuck into their friends' poop.

Since their poop has a high chance of containing intestinal parasites, wolves poop far from their dens. But if a sick wolf doesn't quite make it out of the den in time, they might do their business too close to home. A healthier wolf might eat this poop, but the parasite eggs wouldn't have hatched within the first day or two of the feces being dropped. Thus, the healthy wolf would carry the risk of infection away from the den, depositing the eggs they had consumed away in their own, subsequent bowel movements at an appropriate distance before the eggs had the chance to hatch into larvae and transmit the parasite to the pack.

Domestic dogs may just be enacting this behavior instinctively—only for them, there isn't as much danger of them picking up a parasite at home. However, the theory isn't foolproof. The surveys also found that so-called "greedy eaters" were more likely to eat feces than dogs who aren't quite so intense about food. So yes, it could still be about a poop-loving palate.

But really, it's much more pleasant to think about the behavior as a parasite-protection measure than our best pals foraging for a delicious fecal snack. 

[h/t The Washington Post]


More from mental floss studios