MORPHO BUTTERFLY — have ears on their wings
Scientists thought butterflies were deaf until 1912 when the first butterfly ears were identified. Only in the past decade or so have researchers examined the anatomy and physiology of butterfly ears, which they are finding to be quite diverse and present in several butterfly species. The latest discovery was made with the blue morpho butterfly.
Scientists knew from relatively recent research that the morpho sports simple wing ears. In the new study, Kathleen Lucas of the University of Bristol in England and her colleagues were interested in the odd-looking hearing membrane that sits at the base of the blue morpho’s wing. The tympanal membrane, as it is called, is oval-shaped with a dome at its center that kind of resembles the yolk at the center of a fried egg, Lucas said.
Sound waves from, say, crackling leaves or a singing bird hit the membrane and get converted into nerve impulses by nearby sensory organs. Those impulses are picked up by nerve cells.
As for why the morpho butterfly would need such expert ears, Lucas speculates they could help the butterflies figure out if birds are about to attack. Lower pitch sounds would indicate the flapping of bird wings, Lucas said, which could signal the butterflies to turn tail and fly away.
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