The moon is bright, the frogs are out, the insects are a-flying

I am down in Arkansas doing some training and on the long drive down here last night, there was an beautiful, nearly full moon out.  Since this is not my favorite place to be, this was nice to see.  I know, what’s not to love about Arkansas?  The oppressive heat and humidity?  The high number of insects (specifically mosquitoes) that strike my car so often it sounds like a rain shower?  The copious number of frogs innocently sitting in the road and inadvertently impacting my car as I weave like a drunken gorilla to try to avoid just a few of them?  Or the long stretches of absolutely nothing so I almost run out of gas in between gas stations?  kermitface

Yet I digress.  The moon, sitting above the horizon, glowing like a golden wheel of gouda.  That makes me think about all the night flying insects we have (not just the ones making suicidal runs at my car.  It really needs to be washed now.)  There are a number of research projects that have looked into this.  An article in the Annual Review of Entomology states that “With their highly sensitive visual systems, nocturnal insects have evolved a remarkable capacity to discriminate colors, orient themselves using faint celestial cues, fly unimpeded through a complicated habitat, and navigate to and from a nest using learned visual landmarks.”  Different species will utilize different skills and adaptations to maneuver around their nocturnal landscape, looking for food and avoiding predators.

Nocturnal insects have evolved a remarkable capacity to discriminate colors, orient themselves using faint celestial cues, fly unimpeded through a complicated habitat, and navigate to and from a nest using learned visual landmarks.

Silver Y moth (Autographa gamma). Credit: Ian Woiwod

A new study published in Current Biology is suggesting that insects can sense airflow direction. “They can sense turbulent fluctuations in the airstream because they get buffeted from side to side by them.”  This means they can correct their course somewhat.  It also means that moths and birds (which have been thought to be similar for migration patterns) are really quite different in how they solve wind displacement issues.  That’s just cool.

So next time you are staring up at the moon (when your eyes should be on the road and avoiding forlorn frogs), think of all those insects out at night and the amazing ways they have adapted to night time endeavors.  And share with your friends so they can ponder the enormous entomological awesomeness also.

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