Many Nymphalidae butterflies possess ears, but little is known about their hearing. The tympanal membrane of butterflies typically comprises distinct inner and outer regions innervated by auditory nerve branches NII and NIII and their respective sensory organs. Using the Blue Morpho butterfly (Morpho peleides) as a model, we characterized threshold and suprathreshold responses of NII and NIII. Both are broadly tuned to 1–20 kHz with best frequencies at 1–3 kHz, but NIII is significantly more sensitive than NII. The compound action potentials (CAPs) of both branches increase their first peak amplitudes and areas in response to higher sound levels. NII and NIII differed in their suprathreshold CAP responses to sound frequencies, with stronger responses to 1–3 and 4–6 kHz, for NIII and NII respectively; results that are consistent with tympanal membrane mechanics. These results indicate that butterflies are capable of amplitude and frequency discrimination. Both auditory branches responded to playbacks of the flight and calls of predatory birds. We propose that the ears of butterflies, like those of many vertebrate prey such as some rabbits and lizards, function primarily in predator risk assessment.

Additional Metadata
Keywords Butterfly, Ear, Neurophysiology, Predator detection, Sensory
Persistent URL dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00359-018-1280-2
Journal Journal of Comparative Physiology A: Neuroethology, Sensory, Neural, and Behavioral Physiology
Citation
Mikhail, A. (Andrew), Lewis, J.E. (John E.), & Yack, J. (2018). What does a butterfly hear? Physiological characterization of auditory afferents in Morpho peleides (Nymphalidae). Journal of Comparative Physiology A: Neuroethology, Sensory, Neural, and Behavioral Physiology. doi:10.1007/s00359-018-1280-2