These bats use a novel evolutionary trick to ward off predators

This bat, originally from Europe, emits a buzz very similar to that of hornets to scare away one of its predators, the owl.

Photo: Naturalist

In the animal world, mimicry It is usual, and commonly used by animals to defend themselves against predators. For example, some harmless species of butterflies display colors characteristic of harmful species on their wings, while there are some flies that have evolved to closely resemble bees or wasps. These behaviors are what science has called batesian mimicry. Although it is an evolutionary trick that is well known and documented, now researchers have just studied the first known case of mimicry between mammals and insects.

The research, published in the journal Current Biology it is also novel because it is one of the few cases in which the imitation between species is acoustic; Usually, mimicry occurs from the visual field. Scientists discovered that the mouse eared batpresent on all continents, emits a buzz similar to that of hornets or bees to ward off predators like owls. For Gloriana Chaverri, one of the study researchers, this behavior is fascinating, as she related to The New York Times: “This is something new: they are using sound to confuse, to deceive predators.”

Bats buzz like bees and hornets to scare off hungry owls

The idea to develop this research arose more than 20 years ago, when the ecologist Danilo Russo, one of the co-authors of the study, was working on the creation of a library of echolocation calls of Italian bats, in 1999. After extracting a mouse eared bat of a net, Russo recalls that the animal began to “tremble and emit a continuous and intense noise,” he told National Geographic. The researcher then thought that it sounded very similar to a hornet or bee.

But it was not until more than 20 years later that a group of researchers decided to study this behavior carefully. Within the investigation, they focused on hornets, bees and two species of owl common in the geographic range of bats. During the study, data was collected on the reactions of owls to different types of noises emitted through a speaker. Generally, the birds moved away when they heard any type of buzzing and came closer when they heard the call of bats, without buzzing.

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The researchers found the behavior of wild owls particularly important, compared to those bred in captivity. The former had a more noticeable response by moving away when they heard buzzing. According to the study’s hypothesis, this is probably because wild owls know which insects to avoid. In a conversation with the portal SciTechDaily ecologist Danilo Russo explained that, although they have no evidence to prove that insects such as hornets or bees they sting owls, they think it is likely, since there is evidence that the birds avoid the hives of beesfor example.

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The researchers believe that this behavior could be more common than is currently known. “Various species of bat emit buzzes, usually at frequencies higher than the Myotis myotis. Other species of animals that inhabit trees or rock cavities also buzz when disturbed in their nest, and their sounds have sometimes been described as similar to that of bees,” the study explained.

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