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This Moth’s Love Song Has a Dual Meaning

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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. 

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Animals
Watch as Hummingbirds Fly, Drink, and Flap Their Tiny Wings in Slow Motion
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Hummingbirds have more feathers per inch than nearly any other bird, but it’s hard to fully appreciate their luminescent colors when they beat their wings between 70 to 200 times per second.

For the enjoyment of birders everywhere, National Geographic photographer Anand Varma teamed up with bird biologists and used a high-speed, high-resolution camera to capture the tiny creatures in slow motion as they flew through wind tunnels, drank artificial nectar from a glass vessel, and shook water from their magnificent plumage.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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Big Questions
Why Do Dogs Howl at Sirens?
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A dog's behavior can often prove confusing to their human colleagues. We know they like to eat their own poop, but puzzle at their motivations. We're surprised when dogs give a ladybug the same greeting as a home intruder.

Topping the list of eccentric canine behavior: Why do dogs howl at sirens? Is there some genetic predisposition to responding to a high-pitched alarm from passing ambulances or police vehicles?

As it turns out, the reason dogs howl at sirens is because of their ancestry—namely, the wolf. When members of a pack are fractured and spread out, their companions will howl to provide a way of locating them. Think of it as nature’s GPS: By howling, dogs are able to communicate their respective locations to one another, even across long distances.

Since dogs really don’t know what a cop car is supposed to sound like, they’ll often interpret a siren as an animal’s howl. It’s also possible that dogs consider sirens to be a sign that something is abnormal in their environment, and that they want you, the pack leader, to be aware of it.

Contrary to belief, a dog is rarely howling because the noise hurts their delicate ears. If that were the case, some experts say, then they would display other behaviors, like running and hiding.

The more a dog hears and responds to a siren, the more they might be compelled to continue the behavior. That’s because dogs who howl and then notice the sound drifting away might begin to associate their vocalizing with the disappearance of the noise. In the future, they’ll probably recall that they “drove” the interloper away with their warbling and repeat the process.

While howling is usually harmless, sometimes it can be a sign that your pet is feeling separation anxiety from an owner or that they’re feeling unwell. If howling persists even without a screaming siren within earshot, you might consider taking them in for a check-up.

If you’ve wondered why dogs howl at sirens, now you know. It’s simply a way of signaling their location and not because it pains them. Owners, on the other hand, might feel differently.

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