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Bat Avoidance in Non-Aerial Insects: The Silence Response of Signaling Males in an Acoustic Moth

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While the evasive responses of many flying acoustic insects to aerial-hawking bats are duly recognized and studied, the responses of non-aerial insects to gleaning bats are generally overlooked. It has been assumed that acoustic insects are deaf to these predators because gleaning bat echolocation calls are typically low in amplitude, brief (1–3 ms) and very high in frequency (>60 kHz). We tested this assumption in a series of playback experiments with a moth (Achroia grisella) that uses hearing in both predator evasion and mating. We report that ultrasound pulses ≥78 dB peSPL (peak equivalent sound pressure level) and ≥1 ms in duration inhibit stationary males from broadcasting their own ultrasonic advertisement calls, provided that the pulsed stimuli are delivered at a repetition rate ≤30/s. Further analyses suggest that inhibition by pulsed ultrasound comprises two processes performed serially. First, a startle response with a latency <50 ms is elicited by a single pulse ≥1 ms duration. Here, a male misses broadcasting several calls over a 50–100 ms interval. Secondly, the startle may be extended as a silence response lasting several to many seconds if subsequent pulses occur at a rate ≤30/s. Call inhibition cannot represent a simple response to acoustic power because of the inverse interaction between pulse duration and rate. On the other hand, the temporal and energy characteristics of inhibitory stimuli match those of gleaning bat echolocation calls, and we infer that inhibition is a specialized defensive behavior by which calling males may avoid detection by eavesdropping bats.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, USA

Publication date: May 1, 2003


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