These Bats Buzz Like Hornets to Scare Predators

To scare off potential predators, some animals display features of more deadly creatures. A red king snakefor example, it wears a pattern of red, black, and yellow stripes similar to that of a venomous coral snake; harmless butterfly species displaying the same beautiful splashes of color on their wings as their harmful relatives; and are thought to be the offspring of Amazonian bird species. avoid predators by displaying movement and bright orange the color of a poisonous caterpillar.

These evolutionary adaptations are examples of Batesian mimicry, named after the 19th century English naturalist. Henry Walter Bates – when harmless species flee from predators by imitating more dangerous species that their hungry enemies know to avoid.

Most examples of Bates imitations discovered are visual. In contrast, there are several examples of imitation with sound. “Acoustic mimicry is very rarely documented in nature,” he said. Leonardo AncillottoAn ecologist at the University of Naples Federico II.

Dr. Ancillotto and colleagues have discovered not only a new example of acoustic Batesian mimicry, but also the first documented among mammals and insects. in them published work A bat species that mimics the buzzing sound of stinging insects like hornets was reported Monday in the journal Current Biology to deceive owls who might otherwise eat them.

bats famous for its use of echolocation They also use various social searches to maneuver through the air and locate their prey, but also to communicate with each other.

We know that sound is very important to bats. Gloriana ChaverriA behavioral ecologist at the University of Costa Rica and author of the study.

Despite knowing this, Dr. Chaverri marveled at the finding of acoustic mimicry. “This is really something new – they use sound to confuse, to deceive predators,” he said.

This research idea first arose about twenty years ago. Danilo Russo, co-author of a study and now an ecologist at the University of Naples Federico II, was a graduate student working to create a database for echolocation calls of all Italian bat species. While he was dealing with a species that had larger mouse-eared bats in the field, he had been struck by their intense buzz. But he had to wait years before he could test his hypothesis that they did this to deter predators.

To test whether these buzzing bats actually mimic buzzing insects to escape predators, the researchers focused on hornets, bees and two owl species common to the bat’s geographic range. The study included wild owls who may have encountered a biting insect before, and owls raised in captivity.

The researchers collected data on how the owls behaved when the sound of various sounds was played through a loudspeaker. Owls usually move away from the speaker when they hear any buzz and approach the speaker in response to the social call of a non-buzzing bat. But the response of wild owls was much more pronounced than that of captive-bred owls, supporting the researchers’ hypothesis that the larger mouse-eared bat adapted to escape from predators by mimicking the sound of stinging insects, which predators know to avoid.

The researchers also discovered, after analyzing the sound, that owls can find bats and wasps particularly similar sounds because of their hearing ranges.

David PfennigAn evolutionary biologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who was not part of the study, is intrigued by the possibility of adaptation involving species that diverged from their last common ancestor hundreds of millions of years ago.

“Mimicry is a very powerful idea in science, and especially in evolutionary biology,” he said. “It really shows how you can achieve remarkable adaptations even among distantly related groups.”

Sean MullenAn evolution biologist at Boston University who was also not involved in the research, Dr. .

But he was eager to learn more.

“Whenever we find examples where evolution may have led to adaptation, this is further proof of how amazing life is,” he said.

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