Camouflage of moths: Secrets to invisibility revealed

Jul 31, 2012
Fig. 1 shows two species of moths that, according to the recent study of evolutionary biologists from Seoul, “know” how to find a spot on a tree bark to become invisible to predators: (a) - Hypomecis roboraria; (b) - Jankowskia fuscaria. Credit: ©entomart NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Moths are iconic examples of camouflage. Their wing coloration and patterns are shaped by natural selection to match the patterns of natural substrates, such as a tree bark or leaves, on which the moths rest. But, according to recent findings, the match in the appearance was not all in their invisibility.

Despite a long history of research on these iconic insects, whether behave in a way to increase their invisibility has not been determined. A research team from the Laboratory of Behavioral at the Seoul National University has conducted an experiment to directly answer this question. Chang-ku Kang, Jong-yeol Moon, Sang-im Lee and Piotr Jablonski have found out that moths are walking on the tree bark until they settle down for resting; the insects seem to actively search for a place and a that makes them practically invisible.

Instead of placing moth specimens on a tree bark in various positions to see how body orientation of moths make them invisible to birds, which has been done by several researchers, "we let the moths to do the job for us" says Changku Kang, the who conducted the experiment. The researchers let inchworm moths of two species (Jankowskia fuscaria and Hypomycis roboraria) to land on a tree bark and to freely choose the final resting spot and body orientation. Many moths did not remain at the spot of landing. They walked around with stretched wings as if they were looking for that one perfect spot that may make them invisible to predators.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

To determine whether this final spot indeed made the moth really invisible, the researchers photographed each moth at its landing spot (initial spot) and at the final spot at which the moth decided to rest. Next, the researchers asked people to try to locate the moth from the photograph as quickly as possible. People had more difficulty finding the moths at their final spots than the same moths at their initial landing spots. Amazingly, this was even true for the species (Hypomecis roboraria) that only changed its resting spot on the without changing its body orientation. Therefore, the researchers concluded, that moths seems to actively choose the spot that makes them invisible to predators. How do they know how to become invisible? The research team is now trying to answer this question as the next step.

Explore further: Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

More information: CK Kang, JY Moon, SI Lee, P.G. Jablonski, 2012, Camouflage through an active choice of a resting spot and body orientation in moths. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, online: 6 Jul 2012. DOI: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2012.02557.x

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Finding genetic changes behind moths' coloration

Apr 17, 2011

During the Industrial Revolution in 19th-century England, black moths started appearing - because they blended in better on pollution-darkened tree trunks than did normal, speckled moths. Now scientists are ...

Scientists work to defeat gypsy moths

Nov 16, 2006

Ecologists have found a new pattern in the gypsy moth invasion across the Northeastern United States that might be useful in battling the moths.

Evolutionary question, answered

Feb 28, 2012

A new paper published in the Royal Society’s Biology Letters journal, shows that early experimental studies of the peppered moth, as taught to many American high school students, are “completely cor ...

Fossil moths reveal their true colors

Oct 12, 2011

Moths dead for 47 million years are again showing their true colors. For the first time, scientists have reconstructed the colors of an ancient fossil moth. The findings detailed not just a few spots of color, ...

Browntail moth's decline is documented

Oct 26, 2006

A fly introduced in 1906 to control browntail moths in the United States is now linked with the decline of several native species of butterflies and moths.

China releases 600 million wasps to combat moths

Aug 10, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Chinese forestry officials have released some 600 million parasitic insects into the north China city of Baoding to combat the spread of the American White Moth that has been (in their caterpillar stage) ...

Recommended for you

Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —The incident was captured by Dr Bruna Bezerra and colleagues in the Atlantic Forest in the Northeast of Brazil.  Dr Bezerra is a Research Associate at the University of Bristol and a Professor ...

Orchid named after UC Riverside researcher

Apr 17, 2014

One day about eight years ago, Katia Silvera, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Riverside, and her father were on a field trip in a mountainous area in central Panama when they stumbled ...

In sex-reversed cave insects, females have the penises

Apr 17, 2014

Researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on April 17 have discovered little-known cave insects with rather novel sex lives. The Brazilian insects, which represent four distinct but re ...

Fear of the cuckoo mafia

Apr 17, 2014

If a restaurant owner fails to pay the protection money demanded of him, he can expect his premises to be trashed. Warnings like these are seldom required, however, as fear of the consequences is enough to ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

(Phys.org) —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.