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Proc Biol Sci. 1998 Aug 7;265(1404):1373-6.

Bat defence in lekking ghost swifts (Hepialus humuli), a moth without ultrasonic hearing.

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Zoology Department, Göteborg University, Sweden.


The Hepialidae represents an early branch of the Lepidoptera, whose members lack the ultrasonic hearing and other obvious predator defence systems present in other extant moths. I observed lekking male ghost swifts, Hepialus humuli, being exploited by northern bats, Eptesicus nilssonii, over a hayfield in southern Sweden. Because the moth's display flight was restricted to a brief (30 min) period at dusk, they avoided most predators temporally but were exposed to early emerging aerial-hawking bats. Against these, they apparently employed 'acoustic crypsis', achieved by flying close (< 0.5 m) to the vegetation, thereby hiding from the bats among clutter (echoes returning from the background). Nevertheless, the predation risk for the displaying moth males was very high (20% per night), mainly because they sometimes left the safety of the vegetation. The lack of 'advanced' predator defence mechanisms in H. humuli requires alternative defence strategies, which, however, restrict the behavioural repertoire and still carry a high predation risk.

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