Tiger beetles produce anti-bat ultrasound and are probable Batesian moth mimics

Biol Lett. 2024 May;20(5):20230610. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2023.0610. Epub 2024 May 15.


Echolocating bats and their eared insect prey are in an acoustic evolutionary war. Moths produce anti-bat sounds that startle bat predators, signal noxiousness, mimic unpalatable models and jam bat sonar. Tiger beetles (Cicindelidae) also purportedly produce ultrasound in response to bat attacks. Here we tested 19 tiger beetle species from seven genera and showed that they produce anti-bat signals to playback of authentic bat echolocation. The dominant frequency of beetle sounds substantially overlaps the sonar calls of sympatric bats. As tiger beetles are known to produce defensive chemicals such as benzaldehyde and hydrogen cyanide, we hypothesized that tiger beetle sounds are acoustically advertising their unpalatability. We presented captive big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus) with seven different tiger beetle species and found that 90 out of 94 beetles were completely consumed, indicating that these tiger beetle species are not aposematically signalling. Instead, we show that the primary temporal and spectral characteristics of beetle warning sounds overlap with sympatric unpalatable tiger moth (Arctinae) sounds and that tiger beetles are probably Batesian mimics of noxious moth models. We predict that many insect taxa produce anti-bat sounds and that the acoustic mimicry rings of the night sky are hyperdiverse.

Keywords: Cicindelidae; acoustic mimicry; aposematism; palatability; tiger moth.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Mimicry
  • Chiroptera* / physiology
  • Coleoptera* / physiology
  • Echolocation*
  • Moths* / physiology
  • Predatory Behavior