Moths Use Anti-Bat Sonar Counter-Measures in an Aerial Arms Race

Hawk Moth

Bats and moths have been engaged in aerial warfare for nearly 65 Myr. This arms race has produced a suite of counter-adaptations in moths, including bat-detecting ears. One set of defensive strategies involves the active production of sound; tiger moths’ ultrasonic replies to bat attack have been shown to startle bats, warn the predators of bad taste and jam their biosonar

so reports an article published in the Biology Letters of the Royal Society.

Anti-bat Spectrogram produced by Hawk Moth

It turns out that there are a number of moth species that have evolved bat-detected ears, in particular Tiger and Hawk Moths. When they detect a bat and think that they have been “pinged” (I got tone!) it can trigger aerobatic evasive behaviours (loops, spirals and dives). Tiger Moths in particular have been shown to also produce anti-bat sonar jamming. All the bats need next is to eject chaff and flares!

That is incredible and so reminiscent of modern military jamming techniques used to disrupt radar. It is amazing (or maybe not?) to think that nature has come up with this millions of years ago. I wonder how many other similar battles to that are going on in the Natural World that we have yet to discover?

Natural Selection providing the ultimate innovation.

2 thoughts on “Moths Use Anti-Bat Sonar Counter-Measures in an Aerial Arms Race”

  1. so you’re gonna sit here and tell me with a confidence that moths evolved to have some kind of biological transducer that will hear bat’s echolocation frequency and detect and evade their predator?

    how many failed mutated adaptations would have been randomly generated before this one magically, by complete chaos and randomness, gave the moth this advantage?

    calculate the probability, of the chances of the moth’s dna becoming mutated and somehow gaining information for this irreducibly complex “anti-bat sonar counter” mechanisms”. not gonna happen by chance.

    nature is fascinating for a reason, an we only understand fractional parts of it. imagine all the things that go on in ‘simple’ insects that we havent realized yet.

    1. Shane,

      You are absolutely right – it is mind-boggling. Sounds like you’re coming down on the side of “Intelligent Design”? Whilst evolution does undoubtedly take place, one big question is, can it account for the magnitude of change and diversity that we see? Does it merely refine? Can it make radical inter-locking and inter-related changes?

      Science does not yet have the answers to these things (and maybe never will).

      However the moths came to have these capabilities, they exist and totally blow my mind. It had a particular resonance for me having recently been involved with similar military systems.

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