Leaf-borne vibrations are potentially important to caterpillars for communication and risk assessment. Yet, little is known about the vibratory environment of caterpillars, or how they detect and discriminate between vibrations from relevant and non-relevant sources. We measured the vibratory 'landscape' of the territorial masked birch caterpillar Drepana arcuata (Drepanidae), and assessed its ability to detect and respond to vibrations generated by conspecific and predatory intruders, wind and rain. Residents of leaf shelters were shown to respond to low amplitude vibrations generated by a crawling conspecific intruder, since removal of the vibrations through leaf incision prevented the resident's response. Residents did not respond to large amplitude, low frequency disturbances caused by wind and rain alone, but did respond to approaching conspecifics under windy conditions, indicating an ability to discriminate between these sources. Residents also responded differently in the presence of vibrations generated by approaching predators (Podisus) and conspecifics. An analysis of vibration characteristics suggests that despite significant overlap between vibrations from different sources, there are differences in frequency and amplitude characteristics that caterpillars may use to discriminate between sources. Caterpillars live in a vibration-rich environment that we argue forms a prominent part of the sensory world of substrate bound holometabolous larvae.

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Journal of Comparative Physiology A: Neuroethology, Sensory, Neural, and Behavioral Physiology
Department of Biology

Guedes, R.N.C. (R. N C), Matheson, S.M. (S. M.), Frei, B. (B.), Smith, M, & Yack, J. (2012). Vibration detection and discrimination in the masked birch caterpillar (Drepana arcuata). Journal of Comparative Physiology A: Neuroethology, Sensory, Neural, and Behavioral Physiology, 198(5), 325–335. doi:10.1007/s00359-012-0711-8