Msince some harmless snakes have evolved coloring that mimics them poisonous relatives, some bats emit sounds resembling hornet sounds, a new study has found. The authors of an article published today (May 9) c Modern biologysuggest that large mouse ears (Myotis myotis) do this to avoid predators.
Researchers say The Independent that this is the first case of Bates mimicry – when a harmless species mimics another, more dangerous to protect itself from predation – found in mammals.
After being caught by an owl, the main predator of bats, the researchers explain that buzzing can distract the predator, giving the bats a chance to escape. Co-author of the study Danilo Rousseau, a biologist from the University of Naples Federico II in Portici, Italy, says The Independent“Buzzing can fool a predator for a split second – enough to fly.”
Owl (Tyto alba)
Researchers first observed buzzing nearly two decades ago during field experiments in which they caught bats in light nets. “When we handled bats to get them out of the net or process them, they invariably buzzed like wasps,” Rousseau says.
The new scientist reports that only recently Rousseau was able to find a group of scientists willing to study this phenomenon. He and his colleagues began by analyzing the acoustics of a large mouse-eared bat and the sounds made by the western honey bee (Apis mellifera) and the European hornet (Vespa crabro). The researchers noted that the bats emitted a wider range of both lower and higher frequencies, but when the team limited the frequencies to only what owls could hear, the signals began to appear very similar.
Next, the researchers wanted to test how barn owls (Tito Alba) will respond to the buzzing of bats. Through the speaker, the researchers reproduced recordings of honey bees, hornets and mouse-ears, which buzz both wild and captive himself, finding that in all cases, the owls moved away from the source. However, when they played other bats vocals, the owls approached the speaker. Researchers warn that while bees and hornets are likely to sting owls, there is not enough data to conclude why owls avoid buzzing.
Benjamin Sulser, who studies the evolution of bats at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and was not involved in the study, says he was interested but not surprised by the findings. “If I grabbed a bat and it would give out a hornet, I would think twice and I’m not even a bat predator,” he says The new scientist.