We provide evidence for conspecific acoustic communication in caterpillars. Larvae of the common hook-tip moth, Drepana arcuata (Drepanoidea), defend silk nest sites from conspecifics by using ritualized acoustic displays. Sounds are produced by drumming the mandibles and scraping the mandibles and specialized anal "oars" against the leaf surface. Staged interactions between a resident and intruder resulted in escalated acoustic "duels" that were typically resolved within minutes, but sometimes extended for several hours. Resident caterpillars generally won territorial disputes, regardless of whether they had built the nest, but relatively large intruders occasionally displaced residents from their nests. All evidence is consistent with acoustic signaling serving a territorial function. As with many vertebrates, ritualized signaling appears to allow contestants to resolve contests without physical harm. Comparative evidence indicates that larval acoustic signaling may be widespread throughout the Lepidoptera, meriting consideration as a principal mode of communication for this important group of insects.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Department of Biology

Yack, J, Smith, M, & Weatherhead, P.J. (P. J.). (2001). Caterpillar talk: Acoustically mediated territoriality in larval Lepidoptera. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 98(20), 11371–11375. doi:10.1073/pnas.191378898