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Moths Mimic Sounds To Survive

Date:
May 30, 2007
Source:
Wake Forest University
Summary:
In a night sky filled with hungry bats, good-tasting moths increase their chances of survival by mimicking the sounds of their bad-tasting cousins, according to a new study. This is the first research to definitively show how an animal species uses acoustic mimicry as a defensive strategy.

Image of bat and moth taken with high-speed infrared camera.
Credit: Image courtesy of Wake Forest University

The research was conducted by Jesse Barber, a doctoral student in biology at Wake Forest. William E. Conner, professor of biology at Wake Forest, co-authored the study.

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est University study. This is the first study to definitively show how an animal species uses acoustic mimicry as a defensive strategy.

The research was conducted by Jesse Barber, a doctoral student in biology at Wake Forest. William E. Conner, professor of biology at Wake Forest, co-authored the study.

In response to the sonar that bats use to locate prey, the tiger moths make ultrasonic clicks of their own. They broadcast the clicks from a paired set of structures called “tymbals.” Many species of tiger moth use the tymbals to make specific sounds that warn the bat of their bad taste. Other species make sounds that closely mimic those high-frequency sounds.

“We found that the bats do not eat the good-tasting moths that make the similar sounds,” said Barber, who has worked on this research for four years.

In the study, other types of moths that were similar in size to the sound-emitting moths, but did not make sounds, were gobbled up by the bats.
The researcher trained free-flying bats to hunt moths in view of two high-speed infrared video cameras to record predator-prey interactions that occur in fractions of a second. He also recorded the sounds emitted from each moth, as well as the sounds made by the bats.

All the bats quickly learned to avoid the noxious moths first offered to them, associating the warning sounds with bad taste. They then avoided a second sound-producing species even though it was not chemically protected. This is similar to the way birds avoid butterflies that look like the bad-tasting Monarch.

The two species of bats used were big brown bats and red bats. Barber raised the bats in the lab so behavior learned in the wild would not influence the results of the experiment.

Barber said anecdotal observations have suggested that animals such as snakes, owls and bees use acoustic mimicry. This study takes the next step and provides the definitive experimental evidence for how mimicking sounds helps an animal survive.

This research is to be published in the May 29 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Wake Forest University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Wake Forest University. "Moths Mimic Sounds To Survive." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 May 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/05/070529211003.htm>.
Wake Forest University. (2007, May 30). Moths Mimic Sounds To Survive. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 1, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/05/070529211003.htm
Wake Forest University. "Moths Mimic Sounds To Survive." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/05/070529211003.htm (accessed March 1, 2015).

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