William Conner

Professor of Biology

David and Lelia Farr Professor of Innovation, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship

B.A. University of Notre Dame
M.S. Cornell University
Ph.D. Cornell University

30 Winston Hall
(336) 758-5315

Go to my lab website [link]

Areas of Interest

Animal Communication, Chemical Ecology, Insect Physiology and Behavior, Bioacoustics


My laboratory studies animal communication. We are interested in how communicative signals are produced, travel through the environment, how they are detected, how the receiver responds to them, and ultimately how they have evolved. The colorful tiger moths on which we concentrate provide a diversity of interaction and allow a comparative approach to many evolutionary questions. My students and I combine high-speed infrared videography, 3D-video reconstruction of behavior, classic behavioral observation, analytical chemical methods, electrophysiological techniques, and cladistic analyses to explore communication systems that are often beyond our own sensory capabilities.

We are currently studying the following topics:

Bat-tiger moth arms race: When a tiger moth hears the echolocation sounds of an insectivorous bat they answer with a series of ultrasonic clicks. These ant-bat clicks serve several functions depending on the context. They can warn bats of a distasteful prey, deceive bats into thinking the prey is toxic, and even jam bat sonar. The more we learn the more surprises we find.

Reproductive Isolation in Darwin’s tiger moths in the Galápagos: Like Darwin’s finches tiger moths in the genus Utetheisa have undergone rapid radiation in the Galapágos archipelago. We are studying the roles of female and male pheromones in reproductive isolation in this group. The answers may hold secrets about how many species have come into existence.

Behavioral genetics of autism in fruit flies: The causes of autism are largely unknown. However genetic mutations are likely part of the equation. Mutant fruit flies are helping us understand the basis of this increasingly common disorder.

Selected Publications


AJ Corcoran and WE Conner. 2012. Sonar jamming in the field: Effectiveness and behavior of a unique prey defense. Journal of Experimental Biology 215:4278-4287.

WE Conner and AJ Corcoran. 2012. The 65-million-year-old battle between bats and insects. Annual Review of Entomology 57:21-39.

AJ Corcoran, JR Barber, NI Hristov, and WE Conner. 2011. How do tiger moths jam bat sonar? Journal of Experimental Biology 214:2416-2425.

AJ Corcoran, JR Barber and WE Conner. 2010. Anti-bat tiger moth sounds: Form and function. Current Zoology 56:358-369.

AJ Corcoran, JR Barber, and WE Conner. 2009. Tiger moth jams bat sonar. Science 325:325-327.

SE Garrett, WE Conner, L Roque-Albelo. 2009. Alkaloidal protection of Utetheisa galapagensis (Lepidoptera: Arctiidae) against an invertebrate and a vertebrate predator in the Galápagos Islands. Galápagos Research 65:2-6.

AT Jordan and WE Conner. 2007. Dietary basis for developmental plasticity of an androconial structure in the salt marsh moth Estigmene acrea. Journal of the Lepidopterists’ Society 61:32-37.

AT Jordan and WE Conner. 2007. Morphogenetic effects of alkaloidal metabolites on the development of the coremata in the salt marsh moth, Estigmene acrea (Lepidoptera: Arctiidae). Archives of Insect Physiology and Pharmacology 66:183-189.

JR Barber and WE Conner. 2007. Acoustic mimicry in a predator-prey interaction. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104:9331-9334.

WE Conner, A Kerry, J Barry, and A Harper. 2007. Has vertebrate chemesthesis been a selective factor in the evolution of arthropod chemical defenses? Biological Bulletin 213:267-273.