Critter of the week: Underwing moth

You know what I like about being on vacation? I slow down enough to see things that would otherwise escape my notice. Take, for example, this underwing moth, which I happened upon while vacationing at a friend's summer cottage:

Click to magnify

As you can see, underwing moths are endowed with amazing camouflage patterns. But you know what's really cool? They also possess the ability to select tree bark that maximizes the effectiveness of these patterns — as this photo attests.

Underwings are most active at night, when their mortal enemies, bats, are also active. Obviously, a talent for camouflage does little good when your enemy hunts by echo location. Thus, underwings have developed a second defense mechanism: A set of organs called tympana that allow a moth to "hear" a bat's ultrasonic cries. Upon hearing these cries, the moth will take evasive action, such as immediately falling to the ground.

If you're wondering how underwings got their name, it comes from a pair of brightly colored wings that become visible when the moths take flight. The underwing genus, Catocala, is large, comprising over 200 species.

Synchronicity department
A couple of days after I took this photo, my son took some surprisingly similar photos — not of moths, but of paintball markers. The photos are a testament to the effectiveness of the "A-TACS" camouflage pattern. Here's an example; to see more, click here.

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