Fatal Attraction

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Science  30 Jan 2009:
Vol. 323, Issue 5914, pp. 562
DOI: 10.1126/science.323.5914.562a

Two modalities of insect sexual signaling—moth pheromones and Photinus firefly flashing—have been appropriated by predators (the bolar spider and the Photuris firefly, respectively) in an adaptation known as aggressive mimicry. Marshall and Hall have found that predatory Australian katydids of the genus Chlorobalius target amorous male cicadas by imitating the response of the female cicada, thus enticing the male within reach. The katydids are able to copy the species-specific wing-flick sound of the female cicada, which is produced in reply to acoustic features within the male's call and is the audible cue that lures the male onward. Experiments showed that the katydids have the ability to respond effectively to the wide range of songs of a score of cicada species, including species that they have never encountered before. The katydids also appear able to mimic the body-jerking of the female cicadas that accompanies the wing-flick—a behavior that adds a visual element to their response to male song. Although the evolutionary origins of this mimicry remain obscure, the experimentally tractable interaction of katydid and cicada promises to reveal insights into the evolution of insect communication. — AMS

PLoS ONE 4, e4185 (2009).

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