Praying Mantis Uses Ultrasonic Hearing to Dodge Bats

November 19, 2002

To avoid attack by a bat, one of its main nocturnal predators, a praying mantis maneuvers like a fighter pilot in aerial combat.

"Fighter pilots and mantises have evolved the same strategy—and that fact speaks to its strength," says David Yager, a neuroscientist at the University of Maryland, in College Park, whose laboratory studies the interactions of predator and prey.

Under attack by a bat, a praying mantis suddenly dives straight toward the ground.

To illustrate the defensive maneuver for his students, Yager shows a clip from "Top Gun." "The mantis uses the same strategy as Tom Cruise," he says.

When Yager first documented the praying mantis' moves, fighter pilots called to confirm that they had defended themselves the same way.

The airborne combat between bat and mantis is primal. The large slender carnivorous insect, with its two grasping legs, freely moving head and bulbous eyes, relies on its own ultrasound detector to warn of bat attacks.

Bats emit a series of ultrasonic pulses that bounce back from surrounding objects, including prey. The bat uses these reflected signals for orientation and as part of its sonar system to detect food.

As the bat nears prey, it increases the rate of these calls, eventually climaxing in a "feeding buzz" as it prepares to strike.

Ultrasonic Hearing

Although ultrasound helps the bat find its prey, it also helps the prey find the bat.

The praying mantis' ultrasonic hearing picks up frequencies above 20,000 hertz—just beyond the range of humans—through a single ear located in the center of its chest.

Yager made a name for himself by discovering the mantis ear while he was a graduate student at Cornell University, in Ithaca, New York.

Continued on Next Page >>




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