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June 2015

Do Butterflies have Ears?

The most well-known of insects that have true hearing organs are those that produce sound to attract a mate. The most famous of these are the night-singing crickets and katydids, and the day-singing cicada. After all, there’s no point in singing if you don’t have the ears to hear it with.

But for some other insects, the trick of being able to hear comes in very handy when trying to avoid being eaten: primarily by bats. Hearing organs in several families of moths (Sphinxes, Tiger moths, etc.) have been well-studied and relatively well-known for quite awhile. But what about butterflies?

Here are some examples of butterflies which can be found living in our Conservatory, that have ears with which to hear:
The group of Cracker butterflies, in the genus Hamadryas, have ears that are believed to be located at the base of their front wing. These butterflies earned their name from a faint cracking noise the males produce as they defend sunny territories or are disturbed into flight.
Longwing butterflies in the genus Heliconius have also been observed chatting in butterfly morse code, both when flying around each other and when roosting at dusk. Ear-like organs have been described at the base of the underside of their wings.
The famous Blue Morpho is one of the most recent butterfly ear discoveries. It turns out that this species has very sophisticated hearing organs. Not only can it detect sound, but also a range of sound: one study found that they can differentiate between very low frequency and very high frequency sounds.
It's fascinating to know that some butterflies have ears, but there still remains the question as to why?

Since butterflies fly at a completely different time of day than bats, the best guess is that it’s to help these diurnal creatures avoid bird predation. Especially in the case of the Blue Morpho, perhaps their dual-hearing ability enables to detect a bird swooping in (imminent danger) or a bird calling in a tree far away (little threat).

It has long been thought that in the Cracker butterflies, sound production was used by males to attract a mate. But there is no strong evidence to support this theory above the others, including the theory of deterring predators. 

Whether or not we understand why, we can still marvel. Next time you visit, listen carefully and perhaps you'll hear a faint clicking as a Longwing or Cracker butterfly floats by.

Butterfly of the Month 


The Red Cracker (Hamadryas arinome) is one of four Cracker species you may see in the Conservatory. Their tendency to rest head-down on the trunk of a tree makes them stand out. Cracker butterflies in the genus Hamadryas are only found in Central & South America.

BugQuest Summer Camp


There are still some spots available for our July & August camp weeks for both age groups! Check availability and find registration forms on our website. 
 

Monarch Rearing Kits


Available for pre-order now! These wonderful kits come with everything you need to raise, tag and release Monarch butterflies! Order on our website.  

Father's Day Cafe Specials


Father's Day is Sunday June 21! Our Chef will be whipping up some delicious Father's Day specials just for the occasion. View the delicious menu here!
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