Secret signals

Animals respond to chemical messages they may not even realize they’re swapping

By Roberta Kwok, 21:40 PM January 15, 2013


Chemicals called pheromones act as messengers between individuals. Many plants and animals — including squid — respond to such secret chemical signals. Credit: Roger T. Hanlon



One spring morning, a 19th-century French scientist named Jean-Henri Fabre sat at home and watched as a female emperor moth emerged from her cocoon. He placed the moth in a gauzy cage, just to see what might happen next. He didn’t have to wait long: That evening, dozens of male emperor moths swarmed into his house through an open window. “It was an invasion,” Fabre later wrote, calling it “unforgettable.”


Many of the moths appeared to rush the cage containing the female. What could possibl...

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