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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 May 29;104(22):9331-4. Epub 2007 May 21.

Acoustic mimicry in a predator-prey interaction.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Wake Forest University, 226 Winston Hall, Winston-Salem, NC 27106, USA.


Mimicry of visual warning signals is one of the keystone concepts in evolutionary biology and has received substantial research attention. By comparison, acoustic mimicry has never been rigorously tested. Visualizing bat-moth interactions with high-speed, infrared videography, we provide empirical evidence for acoustic mimicry in the ultrasonic warning sounds that tiger moths produce in response to echolocating bats. Two species of sound-producing tiger moths were offered successively to naïve, free-flying red and big brown bats. Noctuid and pyralid moth controls were also offered each night. All bats quickly learned to avoid the noxious tiger moths first offered to them, associating the warning sounds with bad taste. They then avoided the second sound-producing species regardless of whether it was chemically protected or not, verifying both Müllerian and Batesian mimicry in the acoustic modality. A subset of the red bats subsequently discovered the palatability of the Batesian mimic, demonstrating the powerful selective force these predators exert on mimetic resemblance. Given these results and the widespread presence of tiger moth species and other sound-producing insects that respond with ultrasonic clicks to bat attack, acoustic mimicry complexes are likely common components of the acoustic landscape.

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