• Ratcliffe, John M.
  • Fullard, James H.
  • University of Toronto


We studied the efficiency and effects of the multiple sensory cues of tiger moths on echolocating bats. We used the northern long-eared bat, Myotis septentrionalis, a purported moth specialist that takes surface-bound prey (gleaning) and airborne prey (aerial hawking), and the dogbane tiger moth, Cycnia tenera, an eared species unpalatable to bats that possesses conspicuous colouration and sound-producing organs (tymbals). This is the first study to investigate the interaction of tiger moths and wild-caught bats under conditions mimicking those found in nature and to demand the use of both aerial hawking and gleaning strategies by bats. Further, it is the first to report spectrograms of the sounds produced by tiger moths while under aerial attack by echolocating bats. During both aerial hawking and gleaning trials, all muted C. tenera and perched intact C. tenera were attacked by M. septentrionalis, indicating that M. septentrionalis did not discriminate C. tenera from palatable moths based on potential echoic and/or non-auditory cues. Intact C. tenera were attacked significantly less often than muted C. tenera during aerial hawking attacks: tymbal clicks were therefore an effective deterrent in an aerial hawking context. During gleaning attacks, intact and muted C. tenera were always attacked and suffered similar mortality rates, suggesting that while handling prey this bat uses primarily chemical signals. Our results also show that C. tenera temporally matches the onset of click production to the `approach phase' echolocation calls produced by aerial hawking attacking bats and that clicks themselves influence the echolocation behaviour of attacking bats. In the context of past research, these findings support the hypotheses that the clicks of arctiid moths are both an active defence (through echolocation disruption) and a reliable indicator of chemical defence against aerial-hawking bats. We suggest these signals are specialized for an aerial context.


Northern long-eared bats were captured at QUBS using harp traps and put in wooden boxes, Dogbane Tiger moths were raised in the lab