A Moth that can Jam Sonar

The Tiger Moth has over 250 different species in its North American family. Here in Tennessee, we have the Banded Tiger Moth as a resident. They are a medium sized moth with bold patterns and many with an underlying bright coloring when they have their wings spread. They are nocturnal in nature, so they lay flat in undetectable hiding places, using the patterns in their wings to blend in until night comes. They are then busy feeding on different crops, bushes and trees. Some species feed on different plants that actually make them taste bad or even produce poisonous fluids to ward off predators. However it is not the bad taste or threat of poison that protects some species of the Tiger Moth.

It has been proven that several species of the Tiger Moth can actually jam radar. This is a very useful defense due to the fact that they are nocturnal and their main predator at night are bats. Bats use echo locating sonar to target their potential prey. However the Tiger Moth possesses a tymbal organ that produces clicks. These clicks are produced when being hunted. As the predator bat emits the echo locating sonar, the Tiger Moth will emit a click that confuses the bat, thus jamming its sonar where it cannot locate the moth in flight. Some have theorized that these clicks are warning sounds In order to scare off the bat. However, this has actually been proven by scientists who have conducted studies with moths that have had their tymbal organs removed. When observed with other moths that naturally posses the tymbal organs, the rate Tiger Moths caught by the bats are proof that this sonar jamming click actually works.  Most all of the moths that had the tymbal organs could click, jam and evade, whereas the moths without the tymbal organ were mostly caught by the predator bat.

This tymbal organ has also been observed to be used while mating. The Tiger Moth has two or three generations per year. Once the overwintering Tiger Moth makes its appearance, it needs to mate quickly due to the fact that they only live for a few days. They need to find a mate and lay eggs quickly. So the female flies while emitting pheromones to attract a male. With the male Tiger Moth flying downwind, he can pick up on this pheromone trail to get a closer location. Then the tymbal organs are used again, but this time for mating instead of defense. The male will emit a click with the female answering until they can find each other to mate and produce another generation.  They lay their eggs on the underside of leaves, then after a few days she dies. The spring eggs produce a summer generation, with the summer eggs producing the over wintering spring generation for next year. These eggs eventually produce a caterpillar that emerges into this beautiful moth. The caterpillar of some species of the Tiger Moth is called woollybears.  The woollybears are quite popular in some areas of the Southeast United States, due to the fact that they are believed to predict how severe a winter may be. People gather to see if the woollybear is more brown or black. This practice has become so popular that festivals are held in Kentucky and North Carolina, specifically dedicated to the woollybear. This event is actually much like the well known Groundhog Day, where the nation watches to see if winter is over or not, based on the groundhog.

Although the Tiger Moth and its caterpillar may cause some damage to crops or bushes, they are not considered to be a well know pest control issue here in Nashville, Tennessee. The Banded Tiger Moth can be a beautiful and quite skilled insect to try and spot. However if you happen to encounter a Nashville Pest Control issue, please call the local family you can trust – Certified Pest Control. We are happy to offer a free inspection to properly identify the solution to keep your home pest free.