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Invisible Moths

 A clinical photo of a brown moth

If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you already know the power of being invisible. Harry certainly got out of, and into, trouble using his Cloak of Invisibility.

While an invisibility cloak is not a realistic approach, some species of moths have perfected the ability to be invisible to bats on the hunt for a meal.

How, might you ask, is this possible?

First, it’s important to remember that bats hunt flying insects by using echolocation …sending out high frequency sound waves from their mouth or nose and listening to the waves that echo back. From the information that is returned, bats can pin-point the exact location of a potential meal and swoop in for the kill.

Instead of slipping on a cloak, two species of moths rely on the unique shape of the scales that cover their wings to go undetected by bats.

As reported in an article appearing in Chemistry World, a research team at the University of Bristol discovered that the unique forked shape of the moths’ scales causes the bats’ sound waves to bend and twist, resulting in less sound echoing back to the hungry mammal. It basically makes the moths disappear from a bat’s radar screen.

Each of the tens of thousands of tiny scales on the moths’ wings resonate at a particular sound frequency. Together, they absorb up to 70% of the sound hitting them. Not surprising, they do a better job of absorbing sounds made at the same frequency of hunting bats.

This finding silently opens the door of possibility to advances that can be applied to our everyday lives. Principles perfected by a moth that human engineers are just beginning to explore.

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