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Moths use acoustic decoys to dodge bat attacks – new research

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20.09.2021

In dark skies around the world there unfolds a nightly battle between bats and the nocturnal insects upon which they feast. You’d have thought bats, equipped as they are with echolocation, in which they navigate using sound, would have no trouble gobbling up the apparently clueless insects you see banging against your windows after dusk.

But bats evolved their ultrasonic sensitivity 65 million years ago. That’s more than enough time for natural selection to kick in on the behalf of insects, leading to a host of evolutionary defences that are particularly prevalent and diverse among moths.

Bats have responded to these adaptations in what has become a co-evolutionary arms race between predator and prey. Some have shifted the frequency of their calls to parts of the spectrum that a moth isn’t sensitive to. Other have decreased the amplitude of their calls – essentially “whispering” as they hunt so as to not alert the moth of an impending attack.

Read more: Explainer: the evolutionary arms race between bats and moths

Our recent research has shed light on a particularly unusual technique that silk moths have evolved to come away unscathed from a bat attack: the use of acoustic decoys. Deployed on their wingtips, these........

© The Conversation


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