Journal of Insect Behavior

, Volume 25, Issue 2, pp 114–126 | Cite as

Defensive Sound Production in the Tobacco Hornworm, Manduca sexta (Bombycoidea: Sphingidae)

  • Veronica L. Bura
  • Antoine K. Hnain
  • Justin N. Hick
  • Jayne E. YackEmail author


The tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta) is a model organism extensively studied for many aspects of its biology, including its anti-predator strategies. We report on a novel component of this caterpillar’s defence repertoire: sound production. Late instar caterpillars produce discrete clicking sounds in response to disturbance. Click trains range in duration from 0.3–20.0 s (mean 3.3 ± 4.8 s) and contain 2–41 clicks (mean 7.1 ± 9.5). Sounds are broadband with a dominant frequency of 29.8 ± 4.9 kHz. We investigated the mechanism of sound production by selectively ablating three identified sets of ridges on the mandibles, and determined that ridges on the inner face strike the outer and incisor ridges on the opposing mandible to produce multi-component clicks. We tested the hypothesis that clicks function in defence using simulated attacks with blunt forceps. In single attack trials 77% of larvae produced sound and this increased to 100% in sequential attacks. Clicks preceded or accompanied regurgitation in 93% of multiple attack trials, indicating that sound production may function in acoustic aposematism. Sound production is also accompanied by other behaviours including directed thrashing, head curling, and biting, suggesting that sounds may also function as a general warning of unprofitability.


Sound production caterpillar acoustic communication defence Manduca sexta 



We thank Ed Bruggink for providing the host plants and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments. The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (CGS M to V.L.B.; Discovery Grant to J.E.Y.), the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (J.E.Y.), and the Ontario Innovation Trust (J.E.Y.) provided funding.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Veronica L. Bura
    • 1
  • Antoine K. Hnain
    • 1
  • Justin N. Hick
    • 1
  • Jayne E. Yack
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of BiologyCarleton UniversityOttawaCanada

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