Sleight of Sound

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Bats can fool predators by imitating the sound of buzzing insects, the New York Times reported.

Scientists observed that the greater mouse-eared bat species are capable of mimicking the sounds of bees and hornets as a defense mechanism, which they describe as Batesian mimicry.

Named after the 19th-century British naturalist Henry Walter Bates, these evolutionary adaptions occur when harmless creatures imitate more dangerous species to evade their predators.

Batesian mimicry is more common visually in animals, such as the scarlet kingsnake, a non-venomous snake whose red, black and yellow pattern is similar to that of a venomous coral snake.

But in their study, researchers discovered a rare case of acoustic Batesian mimicry and the first documented between mammals and insects.

They noted that bats would produce buzzing sounds to deceive owls, their natural predators. To test this, they initially recorded samples of buzzing and non-buzzing bats. They then exposed the two sounds to wild and captive owls and monitored their response.

The owls would immediately move away from the speaker when they heard the buzzing sounds, with the wild owls reacting even more strongly.

“This is something really new – they’re using the sound to confuse, to deceive predators,” said co-author Gloriana Chaverri.

Other researchers explained that the findings are intriguing because it shows that this evolutionary adaption occurred between species that diverged from their last common ancestor hundreds of millions of years ago.

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