Stealth Bat

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Photo by Dr. Elizabeth Clare, Queen Mary University of London

Bugs don’t want to get eaten, so some of them finally wised up and learned to listen for bat echolocation. But the Pallas long-tongued bat found a way around that.

Bats use echolocation to track down their prey. Most bat echolocation consists of a series of rapid high pitched ultrasonic pulses, which some insects have learned to recognize and avoid. But scientists have discovered that the nectar-slurping Pallas long-tongued bat likes to munch on a certain type of moth that has learned to listen for bats. So how does the Pallas long-tongued bat snag his mothy snack?

Researchers at Queen Mary University of London took a closer look at the bat waste and found insect remains from a species of moth that has figured out the whole echolocation trick. So then they tethered a little mealworm and used infrared video and sound recordings to see how the Pallas long-tongued bat located and approached its snack.

The result was an impressive type of stealth precision maneuver where the bat used a series of high pitch low intensity pulses. Insects aren’t familiar with this pattern and had no idea of their imminent doom. “When we compared the bats’ echolocation calls to the moths’ auditory abilities, we found that the low intensity echolocation calls were not loud enough to trigger the auditory neurons of moths with ears,” explains Dr. Elizabeth Clare from Queen Mary’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, “The echolocation of Pallas’s long-tongued bats is too quiet for the moths to hear and allows them to sneak up on their target using a stealth tactic.”

The Pallas long-tongued bat is the second bat that scientists have found use this method, joining the European barbastelle bat in advanced sneakiness. The research team has published their findings in the scientific journal Functional Ecology.

The research team included scientists from: The University of Bristol; The Max Planck Institute (Germany); The University of Maryland (USA); The University of Massachusetts (USA); Western University (Canada), and The University of Guelph (Canada).

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