When the need arises, this bat will do something very special

It will buzz like a wasp.

When the owl sets its sights on a pale bat, the latter seems unable to do much about it. At most he can try to run and hide, but there aren’t many other options. At least we thought so. Because scientists have now discovered that bats have another tactic: deception. By making a buzzing sound and pretending to be more dangerous than it really is. This works!

Bates tradition
It is a classic example of the so-called Batesian tradition. “In the Batesian tradition, an unarmed species mimics an armed species to scare off predators,” said study researcher Danilo Russo. For example, flies, butterflies, and snakes have previously been described as being similar to their venomous counterparts in terms of color and/or markings, but are not venomous per se. However, for the first time, researchers can now identify a mammal that mimics batesian using a sizzling griffon bat. “Imagine a bat that has been caught by a predator, but has not yet been killed. The sound of sizzling can mislead the predator for a split second – that is enough to fly away.”

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Researchers actually discovered this clever tactic years ago when they tried to catch pallid bats as part of an entirely different study. “When we grabbed the bats to retrieve them from the net or to check them, they were flying like wasps,” Russo says. There was no time and no place to know why bats were making this special sound. But the case continued to preoccupy Rousseau and her colleagues. This resulted in a second study of these bats and a research article published in the journal current biology – Where the black-eared bat is identified as the first mammal to take part in a Batesian simulation.

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In the research paper, the researchers first describe the similarities between the buzzing of trapped bats and the buzzing of stinging insects, such as wasps. It turns out that there are some similarities. In particular, when researchers have modified the hums of bats and wasps so that we realize that sounds like owls – the main opponents of griffon bats – do. In this case, the bat’s hum was more like the buzzing of wasps. This indicates that it is more difficult for owls to distinguish the sounds of a harmless bat hum from the sounds of dangerous wasps.

Experiment – Experiment
The researchers also looked at what the buzz did to owls. They played various sounds—including the hum of bats and wasps, as well as the sound of potential prey—to the owls. All in all, they saw owls move away from the speaker in response to humming sounds, while in response to sounds from potential prey, they moved closer to the speaker.

According to the researchers, this indicates that owls do not like stinging insects and that by mimicking the sound of these insects, griffon bats can keep owls away. It is unclear why owls prefer not to approach stinging insects. It most likely stems from a previous negative experience with wasps in which owls were bitten. However, there is no conclusive evidence that such a collision is the basis of their reluctance.

Remarkably, according to the researchers, bats threaten to mimic the sound of wasps – despite the fact that bats, owls, and hornets occur in the same area, and therefore probably collide with each other regularly. “It is somewhat surprising that owls shape the vocal behavior of bats through their unpleasant experiences with stinging insects,” Russo says. “They are just countless examples that illustrate the beauty of evolutionary processes.”

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Although the black-eared bat is the first mammal to be accused of mimicry, it probably won’t be the last. It is suspected that more bats are using similar methods to fend off predators.

Winton Frazier

 "Amateur web lover. Incurable travel nerd. Beer evangelist. Thinker. Internet expert. Explorer. Gamer."

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