Tiger Moths Produce Ultrasonic Signals to Warn Bats They Are Not Tasty

Posted on May 9, 2016

Cisthene martini tiger moth

Researchers from Wake Forest University have discovered that tiger moths produce acoustic warning signals to deter bats. The signals warn bats that the tiger moths are toxic and are not good to eat. The behavior is called acoustic aposematism.

Acoustic aposematism was previously proven in the lab by biology professor Bill Conner and Jesse Barber in 2007. The moths have now been proven to use the ultrasonic signals in the wild by Wake Forest biology graduate student Nick Dowdy and colleagues.

Dowdy says in a statement, "The signals are, in essence, a warning to the bats that the moth is unpalatable and potentially harmful if ingested by the bats."

The researchers studied two types of tiger moths, the Pygarctia roseicapitis and the Cisthene martini (pictured above). The researchers also found that the tiger moths do not always dive out of the way as bats approach. Dowdy says most moths will enact evasive dives and spiraling flight when a bat is about to capture them. Dowdy says the implication here is that certain species may have evolved to rely on their warning sounds instead of the evasive maneuvers common to most eared moths.

He says, "This means that in evolutionary history these moths first evolved these sounds for use in warning bats of their toxicity and then sometime later, these sounds grew in complexity in certain species to perform a sonar jamming function."

An article about the moths banning bats' sonar can be found here.

Photo: Jospeh Scheer