Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The amazing animal world

Unbelievable, but a certain kind of caterpillar "sings" a song that mimics that of an ant queen so well that the worker ants feed and care for the imposter:

Using miniature microphones hooked up to an MP3 recorder, Thomas' team captured the tunes made by queen and worker ants, as well as by the butterfly larvae and pupae. Auditory analysis showed similarities in key acoustic features of the ant and butterfly sounds, such as resonant frequency.

The researchers then used Lilliputian speakers to audition the various songs to workers. When they listened to their own songs, the workers perked up. "Instead of running away or acting with aggression, the speakers attracted the worker ants to them and they tapped them with their antennae with great interest," says Thomas.

The recording of a queen's song inspired even more interest. Workers surrounded the speaker and refused to budge. Amazingly, Thomas' team observed nearly the same behaviour when they played the butterfly songs to the ants - suggesting that auditory mimicry is the key to the butterflies' ascendancy.

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