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Wildlife

Bats can buzz like wasps to stop owls from eating them

“It is just one of the endless examples of the beauty of evolutionary processes."

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By Gwyn Wright via SWNS

Bats imitate the buzzing sound of a stinging insect to stop owls from eating them, reveals a new study.

In a world first, researchers discovered the first case of 'interspecific Batesian mimicry' - where a harmless species imitates a more dangerous one in a bid to stop predators - in mammals.

via GIPHY

Buzzing may fool a predator for just a few seconds, but that is still enough time for them to fly away.

Italian scientist Dr. Danilo Russo made the discovery while doing field research where he often caught the creatures in mist-netting operations.

When he and his team handled the bats to take them out of the nets, they often buzzed like wasps.

They recognized the buzzing as a distress call but couldn’t quite pin down the reason for it at first.

His team thought it could be a clever way of deterring predators before ditching the theory.

Years later they designed an experiment to test their earlier idea about the buzzing.

For the study, they first looked at acoustic similarities between the buzzing sounds of the bats and stinging insects including wasps, bees and ants.

Flying Fox, Fruit Bat, Megabat, Moroni, Grand Comore Island, Ngazidja, Comores, Africa
The bats buzz like wasps to deter predators when threatened. (Photo by Altrendo Images via Shutterstock)

They then played these sounds back to captive owls to find out how they would react.

Owls reacted in different ways but the supposedly wise nocturnal creatures consistently flew away from the sound of insect and bat buzzes and moved towards the sounds of prey.

Buzzing sounds of hornets and bats were found to be even more similar when heard the way owls hear them.

It remains unclear whether owls avoid the buzzing sound of insects because they have been stung before.

It is believed that insects do sting owls but there is not yet enough data to prove it.

There is evidence that birds avoid stinging insects- for example, when hornets move into nest boxes or tree cavities, birds won’t even explore them and they definitely don’t nest there.

The study species in question all share many of the same spaces, such as buildings, rock crevices, or caves, which means there is likely to be plenty of opportunities for them to interact.

Even so, the researchers find this intricate relationship among distantly related species intriguing.

Dr. Russo said: “In Batesian mimicry, a non-armed species imitates an armed one to deter predators.

“Imagine a bat that has been seized but not killed by the predator. Buzzing might deceive the predator for a fraction of a second—enough to fly away.

“When we handled the bats to take them out of the net or process them, they invariably buzzed like wasps.

“It is somewhat surprising that owls represent the evolutionary pressure shaping acoustic behavior in bats in response to unpleasant experiences owls have with stinging insects.

“It is just one of the endless examples of the beauty of evolutionary processes!”

The findings were published in the journal Current Biology.

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