Quirks & Quarks

Moths tell bats they taste nasty

Moths with defensive toxins advertise themselves to bats so as to avoid attacks

Moths warn bats not to eat them by telling them they're toxic

Tiger moth ( Joseph Scheer)
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Some species of tiger moths have evolved the ability to make noises that warn predatory bats that they are toxic and unappetizing.

Nick Dowdy, a Ph.D candidate in biology at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, has been studying species that have developed toxicity as a defence against predators. But by itself, that's a defence that only works once a predator has already attacked.

So the moths have also developed the ability to produce warning sounds in the same frequency as the bats' echolocation, and Dowdy has shown that bats will break off their attacks when they hear the warning of nasty tastes ahead.

Related Links

Paper in PLoS One
- Wake Forest University release
- Science news article