The Sphinx of Death adapts to drafts during its migration


Each year, a large number of insects migrate over long distances at different times of the year. These movements have been widely studied. group approachBut not individually, because the challenge of tracking these tiny creatures one by one is great.

The focus is on a recent study by the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior (MPI-AB) and the University of Konstanz. sphinx of death ,Acherontia atropos), which takes its name from the design on its back which resembles a human skull and which periodically migrated to Europe. Work shows that these animals can maintain a perfectly straight flight path even in adverse wind conditions.

These butterflies can maintain a perfectly straight flight path even in adverse wind conditions.

This behavior is detailed in the log Science, indicates that the butterflies will be a refined internal compass This reflects how insects travel long distances taking advantage of seasonal resources, regardless of wind conditions, to maintain beneficial migration routes.

In particular, when the winds were favorable, they tended to blow higher and slower, carrying them with the wind. But in strong winds or crosswinds, they moved closer to the ground and picked up speed to maintain speed control your way,

“We are unsure of the effects of climate change for this species or if it will affect its orientation, but it has been shown to occur in other migratory animals, for example, affecting when they move east. he tells SYNC menzo milesFirst author of the study.

a windproof sail

Researchers track insects by radio and plane 80kmThe longest insect monitoring distance in the wild.

The moth was captured at Col de Bretolet, a pass in the Swiss Alps through which many birds and insects migrate each year. / Christian Ziegler

Although the number of migrating insects exceeds the number of migrating birds or mammals, their movements are least understood form of travel long distance animal

Researcher at MPI-AB and is now a professor at James Cook University (JCU) in Australia. “They are usually too large to be marked and rediscovered, and too small to carry tracking devices.”

Even then,Acherontia atropos He is quite large, which makes him more suitable for transporting transmitters and we can breed him in captivity,” he adds.

Although migrating insects outnumber migrating birds or mammals, their movement is the least understood form of long-distance animal movement.

Much of what we know about the whereabouts of these tiny animals comes from studies that have sampled insects at a given time, such as by radar or direct observation, which have left large areas of knowledge“Understanding what insects do during migration and how they react to weather conditions is the final frontier in this field,” says Mainz.

Leading tracking in size and distance

Acherontia atropos is a nocturnal migrant who travels 4,000 kilometers between Europe and Africa every year and who also size enough (9 to 12cm). Its proportions facilitate the implantation of a tracer of 0.2 grams in its body. “Moths probably eat more weight than that in one night, so these tags are extremely light on insects,” Mainz says.

Moths weigh up to 3.5g, and the radio beacon attached to them weighs 0.2g, less than 15% of an adult’s body weight. / Christian Ziegler

the researchers followed fourteen butterflies For a maximum of four hours, a segment that is already considered an overseas flight due to its length. The insects traveled from Constanta to the Alps, heading for the Mediterranean and northwestern Africa.

The death hawk-moth adapts to drafts during its migration

For years it was believed that insect migration consisted mainly of being carried by the wind, but here we show that they are capable of being great navigators.

Miles Mainz, JCU

The death hawk-moth adapts to drafts during its migration

“For years, it was assumed that insect migration consisted mainly of being driven by the wind. But we show here that they are capable of being great navigators, similar to birds, and much less vulnerable to windy conditions. says Mainz.

The next step in this area is to answer the question of how moths can maintain these straight lines. The authors believe it is possible that the insects used an internal compass, both visual and magnetic, to trace your way around the world and easily reach your destination. “It would also be great to be able to study the entire migration route to find out where they overwinter,” Professor JCU concluded.


Miles HM Mainz et al. “Individual Tracking Reveals Long-Distance Flight Path Control in a Migratory Moth”, Science


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