Einstein Science Reporting for Kids
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16-Jul-2009

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American Association for the Advancement of Science

Moths use sonar to foil bat attacks



Researchers have found that a particular species of tiger moth is able to escape from attacking bats by jamming their sonar with sudden bursts of the moths' own ultrasound. This new discovery adds to the long list of defense mechanisms that insects use against bats.

Aaron Corcoran and colleagues knew that many moths had evolved the ability to detect the sonar sounds of bats on the attack and that some of them could respond with their own ultrasound. So, the researchers set up an experiment to find out if the moths' sonar simply startled the bats, warned of their bad taste, of if they actually jammed the bats' sonar system with their own.

They used ultrasonic recording devices and high-speed infrared video to study the relationship of bats with this particular tiger moth, Bertholdia trigona.

If the moths' defensive bursts of sonar were simply meant to startle the bats, then the bats would have attacked again and eventually caught the moths. If the ultrasound defense was meant to warn the bats of the moths' bad taste, then the bats would have caught the first moth, learned the yucky truth, and stopped attacking them altogether.

However, Corcoran and his team found that the bats neither increased nor decreased their odds of catching these sonar-producing moths, and after an extended period of time, the bats stopped attacking the moths. This finding means that the moths have evolved a genuine sonar-jamming defense mechanism that can save them from hungry bat.

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