Insect | senses and communication

Senses and communication

Many insects possess very sensitive and specialized organs of perception. Some insects such as bees can perceive ultraviolet wavelengths, or detect polarized light, while the antennae of male moths can detect the pheromones of female moths over distances of many kilometers.[73] The yellow paper wasp (Polistes versicolor) is known for its wagging movements as a form of communication within the colony; it can waggle with a frequency of 10.6±2.1 Hz (n=190). These wagging movements can signal the arrival of new material into the nest and aggression between workers can be used to stimulate others to increase foraging expeditions.[74] There is a pronounced tendency for there to be a trade-off between visual acuity and chemical or tactile acuity, such that most insects with well-developed eyes have reduced or simple antennae, and vice versa. There are a variety of different mechanisms by which insects perceive sound; while the patterns are not universal, insects can generally hear sound if they can produce it. Different insect species can have varying hearing, though most insects can hear only a narrow range of frequencies related to the frequency of the sounds they can produce. Mosquitoes have been found to hear up to 2 kHz, and some grasshoppers can hear up to 50 kHz.[75] Certain predatory and parasitic insects can detect the characteristic sounds made by their prey or hosts, respectively. For instance, some nocturnal moths can perceive the ultrasonic emissions of bats, which helps them avoid predation.[33]:87–94 Insects that feed on blood have special sensory structures that can detect infrared emissions, and use them to home in on their hosts.

Some insects display a rudimentary sense of numbers,[76] such as the solitary wasps that prey upon a single species. The mother wasp lays her eggs in individual cells and provides each egg with a number of live caterpillars on which the young feed when hatched. Some species of wasp always provide five, others twelve, and others as high as twenty-four caterpillars per cell. The number of caterpillars is different among species, but always the same for each sex of larva. The male solitary wasp in the genus Eumenes is smaller than the female, so the mother of one species supplies him with only five caterpillars; the larger female receives ten caterpillars in her cell.

Light production and vision

Most insects have compound eyes and two antennae.

A few insects, such as members of the families Poduridae and Onychiuridae (Collembola), Mycetophilidae (Diptera) and the beetle families Lampyridae, Phengodidae, Elateridae and Staphylinidae are bioluminescent. The most familiar group are the fireflies, beetles of the family Lampyridae. Some species are able to control this light generation to produce flashes. The function varies with some species using them to attract mates, while others use them to lure prey. Cave dwelling larvae of Arachnocampa (Mycetophilidae, fungus gnats) glow to lure small flying insects into sticky strands of silk.[77] Some fireflies of the genus Photuris mimic the flashing of female Photinus species to attract males of that species, which are then captured and devoured.[78] The colors of emitted light vary from dull blue (Orfelia fultoni, Mycetophilidae) to the familiar greens and the rare reds (Phrixothrix tiemanni, Phengodidae).[79]

Most insects, except some species of cave crickets, are able to perceive light and dark. Many species have acute vision capable of detecting minute movements. The eyes may include simple eyes or ocelli as well as compound eyes of varying sizes. Many species are able to detect light in the infrared, ultraviolet and the visible light wavelengths. Color vision has been demonstrated in many species and phylogenetic analysis suggests that UV-green-blue trichromacy existed from at least the Devonian period between 416 and 359 million years ago.[80]

Sound production and hearing

Insects were the earliest organisms to produce and sense sounds. Insects make sounds mostly by mechanical action of appendages. In grasshoppers and crickets, this is achieved by stridulation. Cicadas make the loudest sounds among the insects by producing and amplifying sounds with special modifications to their body to form tymbals and associated musculature. The African cicada Brevisana brevis has been measured at 106.7 decibels at a distance of 50 cm (20 in).[81] Some insects, such as the Helicoverpa zea moths, hawk moths and Hedylid butterflies, can hear ultrasound and take evasive action when they sense that they have been detected by bats.[82][83] Some moths produce ultrasonic clicks that were once thought to have a role in jamming bat echolocation. The ultrasonic clicks were subsequently found to be produced mostly by unpalatable moths to warn bats, just as warning colorations are used against predators that hunt by sight.[84] Some otherwise palatable moths have evolved to mimic these calls.[85] More recently, the claim that some moths can jam bat sonar has been revisited. Ultrasonic recording and high-speed infrared videography of bat-moth interactions suggest the palatable tiger moth really does defend against attacking big brown bats using ultrasonic clicks that jam bat sonar.[86]

Very low sounds are also produced in various species of Coleoptera, Hymenoptera, Lepidoptera, Mantodea and Neuroptera. These low sounds are simply the sounds made by the insect's movement. Through microscopic stridulatory structures located on the insect's muscles and joints, the normal sounds of the insect moving are amplified and can be used to warn or communicate with other insects. Most sound-making insects also have tympanal organs that can perceive airborne sounds. Some species in Hemiptera, such as the corixids (water boatmen), are known to communicate via underwater sounds.[87] Most insects are also able to sense vibrations transmitted through surfaces.

Cricket in garage with familiar call.

Communication using surface-borne vibrational signals is more widespread among insects because of size constraints in producing air-borne sounds.[88] Insects cannot effectively produce low-frequency sounds, and high-frequency sounds tend to disperse more in a dense environment (such as foliage), so insects living in such environments communicate primarily using substrate-borne vibrations.[89] The mechanisms of production of vibrational signals are just as diverse as those for producing sound in insects.

Some species use vibrations for communicating within members of the same species, such as to attract mates as in the songs of the shield bug Nezara viridula.[90] Vibrations can also be used to communicate between entirely different species; lycaenid (gossamer-winged butterfly) caterpillars, which are myrmecophilous (living in a mutualistic association with ants) communicate with ants in this way.[91] The Madagascar hissing cockroach has the ability to press air through its spiracles to make a hissing noise as a sign of aggression;[92] the death's-head hawkmoth makes a squeaking noise by forcing air out of their pharynx when agitated, which may also reduce aggressive worker honey bee behavior when the two are in close proximity.[93]

Chemical communication

Chemical communications in animals rely on a variety of aspects including taste and smell. Chemoreception is the physiological response of a sense organ (i.e. taste or smell) to a chemical stimulus where the chemicals act as signals to regulate the state or activity of a cell. A semiochemical is a message-carrying chemical that is meant to attract, repel, and convey information. Types of semiochemicals include pheromones and kairomones. One example is the butterfly Phengaris arion which uses chemical signals as a form of mimicry to aid in predation.[94]

In addition to the use of sound for communication, a wide range of insects have evolved chemical means for communication. These chemicals, termed semiochemicals, are often derived from plant metabolites include those meant to attract, repel and provide other kinds of information. Pheromones, a type of semiochemical, are used for attracting mates of the opposite sex, for aggregating conspecific individuals of both sexes, for deterring other individuals from approaching, to mark a trail, and to trigger aggression in nearby individuals. Allomones benefit their producer by the effect they have upon the receiver. Kairomones benefit their receiver instead of their producer. Synomones benefit the producer and the receiver. While some chemicals are targeted at individuals of the same species, others are used for communication across species. The use of scents is especially well known to have developed in social insects.[33]:96–105

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