Caterpillars have many natural enemies and, therefore, have evolved a diversity of antipredator strategies. Most research focuses on those strategies (crypsis, countershading, and warning coloration) targeting visually guided predators. In contrast, defensive sounds, although documented for more than a century, have been poorly studied. We report on a novel form of sound production—chirping—in caterpillars of the common European Great Peacock moth (Saturnia pyri). Chirps are broadband, with dominant peaks ranging between the sonic (3.7 kHz) and ultrasonic (55.1 kHz) and are generated by a rapid succession of mandibular “tooth strikes.” Chirp trains are induced by simulated predator attacks and precede or accompany the secretion of a defensive chemical from integumental bristles, supporting our hypothesis that these sounds function in acoustic aposematism. We propose that these caterpillars generate multimodal warning signals (visual, chemical, and acoustic) to target the dominant sensory modalities of different predators, including birds, bats, and invertebrates.
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We thank B. Wenczel and R. Schafroth for supplying S. pyri, T. Eberhard for technical assistance, and two anonymous reviewers for helpful suggestions to the manuscript. We gratefully acknowledge research funding by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (JEY), the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, and Ontario Innovation Trust (JEY).
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Bura, V.L., Fleming, A.J. & Yack, J.E. What’s the buzz? Ultrasonic and sonic warning signals in caterpillars of the great peacock moth (Saturnia pyri). Naturwissenschaften 96, 713–718 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00114-009-0527-8
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