Ants & Caterpillars: Sound

ambience Dawn, desert

Caterpillars talking with ants? Sounds like a Disney cartoon, but in Arizona’s Sonora Desert, these two insects really do communicate with each other. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. In a moment we’ll hear the sounds of caterpillars, but let’s first set the scene. With the advent of the summer monsoon rains, the Sonora Desert comes alive. Acacia shrubs are in bloom, and their nectars and flowers attract both ants and butterflies. The butterflies lay their eggs and when the young caterpillars hatch, they come under the care of the ants. The ants feed off the nutritious secretions of the caterpillars and in return defend the caterpillars from predators. It turns out there are a number of ways that the caterpillars have found to communicate with, and influence the behavior of the ants. Diane Wagner is an assistant professor in the department of Biological Sciences at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas.

“Well, the caterpillars have various ways of communicating with the ants. Some are chemical, some are tactile, we think, some are through sound. The caterpillars have pores all over their bodies, and we think they secrete some substance that tells the ants that they’re not prey. They have these hair-like glands that they extrude when they’re alarmed, and those seem to get the ants riled up as well. So that may be a way for the caterpillar to chemically manipulate the ants’ behavior. And now recently, people started paying attention to sound production in these caterpillars. We think that their signals, that they help the ant localize the caterpillar on the tree. So, the sound is very soft, and we can hear it if we amplify it.”

ambience: caterpillar signals

Pulse of the Planet is presented by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

music

Ants & Caterpillars: Sound

Sound - and sweet excretions - are ingredients for harmonious behavior between ants and caterpillars.
Air Date:06/23/2003
Scientist:
Transcript:


ambience Dawn, desert

Caterpillars talking with ants? Sounds like a Disney cartoon, but in Arizona’s Sonora Desert, these two insects really do communicate with each other. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. In a moment we’ll hear the sounds of caterpillars, but let’s first set the scene. With the advent of the summer monsoon rains, the Sonora Desert comes alive. Acacia shrubs are in bloom, and their nectars and flowers attract both ants and butterflies. The butterflies lay their eggs and when the young caterpillars hatch, they come under the care of the ants. The ants feed off the nutritious secretions of the caterpillars and in return defend the caterpillars from predators. It turns out there are a number of ways that the caterpillars have found to communicate with, and influence the behavior of the ants. Diane Wagner is an assistant professor in the department of Biological Sciences at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas.

"Well, the caterpillars have various ways of communicating with the ants. Some are chemical, some are tactile, we think, some are through sound. The caterpillars have pores all over their bodies, and we think they secrete some substance that tells the ants that they’re not prey. They have these hair-like glands that they extrude when they’re alarmed, and those seem to get the ants riled up as well. So that may be a way for the caterpillar to chemically manipulate the ants’ behavior. And now recently, people started paying attention to sound production in these caterpillars. We think that their signals, that they help the ant localize the caterpillar on the tree. So, the sound is very soft, and we can hear it if we amplify it."

ambience: caterpillar signals

Pulse of the Planet is presented by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.

music