Científicos siguen migración de polillas usando rastreadores

científicos siguen migración de polillas usando rastreadores

En esta imagen, proporcionada por el Instituto Max Planck de Comportamiento Animal de Alemania, se ve una polilla a la que se le coloca un rastreador diminuto como parte de una investigación para buscar pistas sobre la migración de los insectos. (Christian Ziegler / Associated Press)

Billones de insectos migran por todo el mundo cada año, pero se sabe poco acerca de sus viajes. Así que, para buscar pistas, científicos en Alemania llevaron su investigación al cielo, colocando diminutos rastreadores en la espalda de polillas gigantes y siguiéndolas en avión.

Para sorpresa de los investigadores, las polillas parecían tener un gran sentido de la orientación. Incluso cuando los vientos cambiaban, los insectos mantenían un rumbo recto, informaron los científicos en un estudio publicado el jueves en la revista Science.

Sus trayectorias de vuelo dejan entrever que estas polillas de la esfinge de la muerte tienen algunas habilidades de navegación complejas, dijeron los autores, desafiando ideas previas de que los insectos solamente deambulan.

“Durante muchos, muchos años, se pensó que la migración de los insectos estaba dictada principalmente por los vientos, y que revoloteaban impulsados por el viento”, señaló el autor principal del estudio, Myles Menz, ahora zoólogo de la Universidad James Cook en Australia.

A los científicos les ha resultado difícil observar de cerca cómo viajan los insectos, en parte debido a su tamaño pequeño, explicó Menz. Los tipos de identificadores de radiofrecuencia utilizadas para seguir a las aves pueden ser demasiado pesados para los voladores más pequeños.

Pero los transmisores cada vez son de menor tamaño. Y ayuda el hecho de que la polilla de la esfinge de la muerte es enorme en comparación con otros insectos, con una envergadura de hasta 12,7 centímetros (5 pulgadas).

Esta especie emblemática —de color oscuro, con la parte inferior de las alas de color amarillo y marcas en forma de calavera— fue capaz de volar bien con el diminuto rastreador pegado a su espalda, comentó Martin Wikelski, coautor del estudio e investigador de la migración en el Instituto Max Planck de Comportamiento Animal de Alemania.

Se cree que las polillas migran miles de kilómetros entre Europa y África en otoño, volando de noche.

Para el estudio, los investigadores soltaron polillas marcadas en Alemania con la esperanza de que empezaran a volar en su ruta migratoria hacia los Alpes.

Wikelski, el piloto del estudio, despegó en su avioneta, sobrevolando la zona y esperando a que las polillas se pusieran en marcha. Si captaba la señal de una pequeña viajera seguía sus señales de radio, durante horas en cada ocasión.

“La pequeña polilla te está guiando”, dijo.

Los investigadores siguieron las trayectorias de vuelo de 14 polillas, cuyo recorrido más largo fue de unos 90 kilómetros (56 millas).

Las polillas no sólo volaron en línea recta, sino que también parecían hacer frente con habilidad a las condiciones del viento, señaló Menz, volando cerca del suelo cuando tenían el viento en contra, o elevándose para aprovechar un viento a favor que las impulsara.

Este artículo fue publicado por primera vez en Los Angeles Times en Español.

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