Scientists discover first case of bats mimicking insects to ward off predators

  • Share This
Ricky Joseph

There are many cases in nature where animals mimic characteristics of more dangerous creatures to ward off potential predators. But recently, scientists have discovered the first case of bats mimicking insects to banish predators.

The researchers observed that some bats buzz like wasps and bees when they are in danger because the sound seems to deter predatory owls.The discovery was reported in the journal Current Biology and surprised the community by being the first case in which a mammal used sound to avoid predators.

Bats are already known to use echolocation to maneuver through the air, locate their prey and communicate. This new discovery comes to show the importance of sound for these mammals.

Case of bats mimicking insects took two decades to study

Between 1998 and 2001, animal ecologist Danilo Russo, co-author of the study, was working on creating a database for all echolocation calls of all Italian bat species.

His studies involved catching bats with mouse ears ( Myotis myotis ) while alive from nets. As he and his colleagues performed this task, the bats made buzzing sounds reminiscent of wasps and bees.

Years later, now, alongside Dr. Leonardo Ancillotto, they were able to start this research. To test this hypothesis, the scientists had to focus on wasps, bees and two species of owls common to the geographical area of bats that mimic insects. Some wild owls were also added in the study.

In this way, the scientists were able to collect data on the owls' behavior when they were exposed to the buzzing of bees and wasps, which was being reproduced by a loudspeaker.

According to the research, when hearing the buzzing sound of wasps or bees, owls usually move away from the speaker. But when they heard the sound bats make to communicate, they moved closer again. In the test, the response of wild owls was more pronounced than those bred in captivity, supporting the research hypothesis.

In addition, the researchers also found that because of their hearing range, the owls would find the bats similar to wasps.

This behavior is a case of Batesian mimicry

Batesian mimicry is the name given to the behavior of animals that imitate others to get away from predators. It was named so after the 19th century British naturalist, Henry Walter Bates.

Until now, most cases of Batesian mimicry found were visual. In comparison to it, there are few cases of mimicry with sound. "Acoustic mimicry is very rarely documented in nature," Ancillotto said.

Besides the case of bats mimicking insects, acoustic mimicry has been seen in other animals, such as giant Congolese frogs hissing like Gabon vipers and burrowing owls imitating the rattle of a rattlesnake.

These cases show how animals are adapting in different ways from their last common ancestor to survive today.

"Mimicry is such a powerful idea in science and in evolutionary biology in particular. It shows how you can get remarkable adaptations, even between very distant groups," reported evolutionary biologist David Pfennig about the study of bats mimicking insects.

Ricky Joseph is a seeker of knowledge. He firmly believes that through understanding the world around us, we can work to better ourselves and our society as a whole. As such, he has made it his life's mission to learn as much as he can about the world and its inhabitants. Joseph has worked in many different fields, all with the aim of furthering his knowledge. He has been a teacher, a soldier, and a businessman - but his true passion lies in research. He currently works as a research scientist for a major pharmaceutical company, where he is dedicated to finding new treatments for diseases that have long been considered incurable. Through diligence and hard work, Ricky Joseph has become one of the foremost experts on pharmacology and medicinal chemistry in the world. His name is known by scientists everywhere, and his work continues to improve the lives of millions.