Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 156, Issue 6, pp 831–843 | Cite as

The influence of arctiid moth clicks on bat echolocation; jamming or warning?

  • Annemarie Surlykke
  • Lee A. Miller


  1. 1.

    Many arctiid and ctenuchid moths produce clicking sounds in response to the ultrasonic cries of bats. Clicks were recorded from the two arctiid moth speciesArctia caja, the garden tiger, andPhragmatobia fuliginosa, the ruby tiger. The threshold for eliciting clicks was around 60 to 75 dB pe SPL in both species.A. caja produced single clicks, andP. fuliginosa bursts of clicks. The maximum intensity of the clicks was 90 to 94 dB pe SPL at 5 cm forA. caja and 85 dB pe SPL at 5 cm forP. fuliginosa. The clicks contain most energy in the frequency range from 40 to 80 kHz (Figs. 2, 3).

  2. 2.

    Pipistrelle bats (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) were trained to sit on a platform and discriminate the difference in range,Δd, to two targets. The minimum Δd the bats could discriminate with more than 75% success rate was 1.5 cm.

  3. 3.

    The targets had built-in electrostatic loudspeakers through which different sounds could be played back to the bat. Playback of arctiid moth clicks from both targets did not disturb the bat's discrimination accuracy. The success rate did not decrease at anyΔd, and the minimumΔ d in the presence of clicks was 1 cm.

  4. 4.

    The clicks played from both loudspeakers did not influence the acoustic behavior or discrimination behavior of the bats in any obvious way. In all trials the bats went through a period with long (3 ms) slowly repeated (12–15 pulses/s) cries, a period with shorter cries and increased PRR (20 pulses/s) in which the decision seemed to be made, and finally a period with very short cries (0.5 ms) repeated at rates of up to 150 pulses/s (Figs. 4 and 5). The cries were FM sweeps from 120 kHz to 55 kHz with a second harmonic, which was strongest in the short cries.

  5. 5.

    The bats' response to the playback of different sounds, such as noise and recorded bat cries, from either the left or right loudspeaker, suggested that the bats reacted to clicks as if they were noise. The playback of sounds from only one speaker at a time decreased the bats' success rate, since the bats were attracted to the sounds (Figs. 6 and 7).

  6. 6.

    A secretion from the cervical glands ofA. caja, which contains choline ester, was given to a bat if it crawled towards a clicking target. Both bats tested in this way learned to associate the clicks with a noxious reward and avoided the clicks after just one or two trials (Fig. 8).

  7. 7.

    These results suggest that the function of the garden tiger and ruby tiger clicks in nature is to warn the bat of the moth's distastefulness, and not to ‘jam’ the bat's sonar system.



Success Rate Choline Sonar Ruby Discrimination Accuracy 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



pulse repetition rate

pe SPL

peak equivalent sound pressure level


frequency modulated


constant frequency


range difference


autocorrelation function


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Albers VM (1965) Underwater acoustics handbook II. Pennsylvania State University PressGoogle Scholar
  2. Andersen BB, Miller LA (1977) A portable ultrasonic detection system for recording bat cries in the field. J Mammal 58:226–229Google Scholar
  3. Bisset GW, Frazer JFD, Rothschild M, Schachter M (1960) A pharmacologically active choline ester and other substances in the garden tiger moth,Arctia caja (L.). Proc R Soc Lond B 152:255–262Google Scholar
  4. Blest AD (1964) Protective display and sound production in some New World arctiid and ctenuchid moths. Zoologica. Scientific contributions of the New York Zoological Society, pp 161–181Google Scholar
  5. Blest AD, Collett TS, Pye JD (1963) The generation of ultrasonic signals by a New World arctiid moth. Proc Soc Lond B 158:196–207Google Scholar
  6. Brower JVZ (1960) Experimental studies on mimicry. IV: The reactions of starlings to different proportions of models and mimics. Am Naturalist 94:271–282Google Scholar
  7. Buchler ER, Childs SB (1982) Orientation to distant sounds by foraging big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus). Anim Behav 29:428–432Google Scholar
  8. Dunning DC (1968) Warning sounds of moths. Z Tierpsychol 25:129–138Google Scholar
  9. Dunning DC, Roeder KD (1965) Moth sounds and the insectcatching behavior of bats. Science 147:173–174Google Scholar
  10. Fenton MB, Roeder KD (1974) The microtymbals of some Arctiidae. J Lepidopterists' Soc 28:205–211Google Scholar
  11. Fullard JH (1979) Behavioral analyses of auditory sensitivity inCycnia tenera Hübner (Lepidoptera: Arctiidae). J Comp Physiol 129:79–83Google Scholar
  12. Fullard JH (1984) Listening for bats: pulse repetition rate as a cue for a defensive behavior inCycnia tenera (Lepidoptera: Arctiidae). J Comp Physiol A 154:249–252Google Scholar
  13. Fullard JH, Fenton MB (1977) Acoustic and behavioural analyses of the sounds produced by some species of Nearctic Arctiidae (Lepidoptera). Can J Zool 55:1213–1224Google Scholar
  14. Fullard JH, Fenton MB, Simmons JA (1979) Jamming bat echolocation: the clicks of arctiid moths. Can J Zool 57:647–649Google Scholar
  15. Griffin DR, Webster FA, Michael CT (1960) The echolocation of flying insects by bats. Anim Behav 8:141–154Google Scholar
  16. Grinnell AD, Griffin DR (1968) The sensitivity of echolocation in bats. Biol Bull 114:10–22Google Scholar
  17. Miller LA (1982) The orientation and evasive behavior of insects to bat cries. In: Addink ADF, Sponk N (eds) Exogenous and endogenous influence on metabolic and neural control, vol 1. Pergamon Press, Oxford, pp 393–405Google Scholar
  18. Miller LA (1983) How insects detect and avoid bats. In: Huber F, Markl H (eds) Neuroethology and behavioral physiology. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg New York Tokyo, pp 251–266Google Scholar
  19. Miller LA, Degn HJ (1981) The acoustic behavior of four species of vespertilionid bats studied in the field. J Comp Physiol 142:67–74Google Scholar
  20. Morley J, Schacter M (1963) Acetylcholine in non-nervous tissues of some Lepidoptera. J Physiol 169:706–715Google Scholar
  21. Møhl B, Miller LA (1976) Ultrasonic clicks produced by the peacock butterfly: A possible bat-repellent mechanism. J Exp Biol 64:639–644Google Scholar
  22. Rothschild M, Reichstein T, Euw J von, Aplin R, Harman RRM (1970) Toxic Lepidoptera. Toxicon 8:293–299Google Scholar
  23. Roverud R, Grinnell AD (1983) Interference with target range discrimination by echolocating bats, correlated with the structure of artificial pulses. Soc Neurosci Abstr 9:531Google Scholar
  24. Ryan MJ, Tuttle MD (1983) The ability of the frog-eating bat to discriminate among novel and potentially poisonous frog species using acoustic cues. Anim Behav 31:827–833Google Scholar
  25. Schnitzler H-U, Henson OW Jr (1980) Performance of airborne animal sonar systems: I Microchiroptera. In: Busnel RG, Fish JF (eds) Animal sonar systems. Plenum Press, New York, pp 109–181Google Scholar
  26. Simmons JA (1971) Echolocation in bats: Signal processing of echoes for target range. Science 171:925–928Google Scholar
  27. Simmons JA (1973) The resolution of target range by echolocating bats. J Acoust Soc Am 54:157–173Google Scholar
  28. Simmons JA, Lavender WA, Lavender BA, Childs JE, Hulebak K, Rigden MR, Sherman J, Woolman B (1978) Echolocation by Free-tailed bats (Tadarida). J Comp Physiol 125:291–299Google Scholar
  29. Simmons JA, Stein RA (1980) Acoustic imaging in bat sonar: Echolocation signals and the evolution of echolocation. J Comp Physiol 135:61–84Google Scholar
  30. Stapells DR, Picton TW, Smith AD (1982) Normal hearing thresholds for clicks. J Acoust Soc Am 72:74–79Google Scholar
  31. Suga N (1984) Neural mechanisms of complex-sound processing for echolocation. Trends NeuroSci 7:20–27Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1985

Authors and Affiliations

  • Annemarie Surlykke
    • 1
  • Lee A. Miller
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of BiologyOdense UniversityOdense MDenmark

Personalised recommendations