Evidence for a southward autumn migration of nocturnal noctuid moths in central Europe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Insect migrations are spectacular natural events and resemble a remarkable relocation of biomass between two locations in space. Unlike the well-known migrations of daytime flying butterflies, such as the painted lady (Vanessa cardui) or the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus), much less widely known are the migrations of nocturnal moths. These migrations - typically involving billions of moths from different taxa - have recently attracted considerable scientific attention. Nocturnal moth migrations have traditionally been investigated by light trapping and by observations in the wild, but in recent times a considerable improvement in our understanding of this phenomenon has come from studying insect orientation behaviour, using vertical-looking radar. In order to establish a new model organism to study compass mechanisms in migratory moths, we tethered each of two species of central European Noctuid moths in a flight simulator to study their flight bearings: the red underwing (Catocala nupta) and the large yellow underwing (Noctua pronuba). Both species had significantly oriented flight bearings under an unobscured view of the clear night sky and in the Earth's natural magnetic field. Red underwings oriented south-southeast, while large yellow underwings oriented southwest, both suggesting a southerly autumn migration towards the Mediterranean. Interestingly, large yellow underwings became disoriented on humid (foggy) nights while red underwings remained oriented. We found no evidence in either species for a time-independent sky compass mechanism as previously suggested for the large yellow underwing.

Details

Authors
Organisations
External organisations
  • Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg
  • Bangor University
  • Queen's University
  • Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences
  • Biologische Station Neusiedler See
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Zoology

Keywords

  • Compass sense, Insect migration, Moth migration, Navigation, Noctuid, Orientation
Original languageEnglish
Article numberjeb179218
JournalThe Journal of experimental biology
Volume221
StatePublished - 2018 Dec 14
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes