Trick or Treat

Everybody needs a wingman!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Bats use echolocation, a call that reflects back to them off of nearby objects. This helps them find dinner! What’s on the menu? Moths! 

But some may have a TRICK to avoid being eaten.

Enter Thomas Neil and colleagues at the University of Bristol in the UK. They discovered that silkmoths have unique ripples and folds on their wingtips. Could these mess with the bat’s hunting technique? 

The researchers played a range of high-pitched sounds, similar to bat calls. They tested how ten species of silkmoths’ wings and bodies reflected the sounds back. 

Results? Echoes from the moths’ wingtips were up to twelve times STRONGER than those from the body. Specifically at the higher pitches bats use when preparing to dive in for dinner!

Neil’s team thinks these unique wingtips help divert bat attacks away from the body to a wingtip. This sleight-of-wing trick gives the moth a chance to escape!

So spread your wings, little moth … and fly free! 

Reference: Neil, T. R., Kennedy, E. E., Harris, B. J., & Holderied, M. W. (2021). Wingtip folds and ripples on saturniid moths create decoy echoes against bat biosonar. Current Biology.