An aerial-hawking bat uses stealth echolocation to counter moth hearing

Curr Biol. 2010 Sep 14;20(17):1568-72. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2010.07.046. Epub 2010 Aug 19.


Ears evolved in many nocturnal insects, including some moths, to detect bat echolocation calls and evade capture [1, 2]. Although there is evidence that some bats emit echolocation calls that are inconspicuous to eared moths, it is difficult to determine whether this was an adaptation to moth hearing or originally evolved for a different purpose [2, 3]. Aerial-hawking bats generally emit high-amplitude echolocation calls to maximize detection range [4, 5]. Here we present the first example of an echolocation counterstrategy to overcome prey hearing at the cost of reduced detection distance. We combined comparative bat flight-path tracking and moth neurophysiology with fecal DNA analysis to show that the barbastelle, Barbastella barbastellus, emits calls that are 10 to 100 times lower in amplitude than those of other aerial-hawking bats, remains undetected by moths until close, and captures mainly eared moths. Model calculations demonstrate that only bats emitting such low-amplitude calls hear moth echoes before their calls are conspicuous to moths. This stealth echolocation allows the barbastelle to exploit food resources that are difficult to catch for other aerial-hawking bats emitting calls of greater amplitude.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chiroptera / physiology*
  • Echolocation*
  • Moths / physiology*