Sound strategies: the 65-million-year-old battle between bats and insects

Annu Rev Entomol. 2012;57:21-39. doi: 10.1146/annurev-ento-121510-133537. Epub 2011 Aug 29.


The intimate details regarding the coevolution of bats and moths have been elucidated over the past 50 years. The bat-moth story began with the evolution of bat sonar, an exquisite ultrasonic system for tracking prey through the night sky. Moths countered with ears tuned to the high frequencies of bat echolocation and with evasive action through directed turns, loops, spirals, drops, and power dives. Some bat species responded by moving the frequency and intensity of their echolocation cries away from the peak sensitivity of moth ears, and the arms race was on. Tiger moths countered by producing anti-bat sounds. Do the sounds advertise moth toxicity, similar to the bright coloration of butterflies; do they startle the bat, giving the moth a momentary advantage in their aerobatic battle; or do they jam the sonar of the bat? The answer is yes. They do all and more in different situations and in different species. Any insect that flies at night must deal with bat predation. Beetles, mantids, true crickets, mole crickets, katydids, green lacewings, and locusts have anti-bat strategies, and we have just scratched the surface. In an exciting new twist, researchers are taking the technologies developed in the laboratory back into the field, where they are poised to appreciate the full richness of this remarkable predator-prey interaction.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological*
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Chiroptera*
  • Echolocation*
  • Hearing*
  • Moths* / chemistry
  • Reflex, Startle
  • Sound