The night sky is the setting for an arms race that has been going on for millions of years: a conflict between bats and moths. Holger Goerlitz from the University of Bristol has found that the barbastelle bat is a stealth killer that specialises in eating moths with ears.
Working with Goerlitz, Matt Zeale and Gareth Jones collected faeces from 51 barbastelles and analysed the DNA within them to work out what the bat eats. The team wanted to find out how the barbastelle catches its sensitive prey but they also wanted to study them in wild conditions.
This drawback suggests that the whispers of the barbastelle are a direct countermeasure against the ears of moths; the difficulty of actually finding a meal is outweighed by the benefits of actually catching one. The moths may well come up with a countermeasure of their own but Goerlitz suggests that they are unlikely to do so by evolving more sensitive ears. But this line of thinking assumes that moths will counter stealthy bats by becoming more sensitive. In the future, these inflatable modules could be used to construct a space habitat, or hotel. Who We ArePhenomena is a gathering of spirited science writers who take delight in the new, the strange, the beautiful and awe-inspiring details of our world. Erika Engelhaupt is the online science editor at National Geographic and manages the Phenomena blog network. Maryn McKenna is an award-winning journalist and the author of Superbug and Beating Back the Devil.
DisclaimerThe views expressed are those of the writer and are not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society.
In time for the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, a new report spotlights new species from Borneo, including a flying frog and the world's longest insect. Long confused with a snake called the elegant bronzeback, central Borneo's Kopstein's bronzeback (pictured) was identified as a separate snake species in 2007."It's got this great ability to flare its neck when threatened, and [has] a rather aggressive disposition," said WWF ecologist Adam Tomasek. A new species, the Mulu flying frog (pictured) glides as far as 45 feet (15 meters) between trees, "using its body like a sheet in the wind," WWF's Adam Tomasek said.The flying frog also has the ability to change color. Discovered in the mountains near Borneo's highest peak, Kinabalu, Thrixspermum erythrolomum (pictured) is one of 51 new orchid species identified on the island since 2007.
Tiger range countries are on their way to their goal of doubling the animal's population, but challenges remain.
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Cookies are very small text files that are stored on your computer when you visit some websites. If wasps think they can eat these frogs’ babies without a fight, they’ve got another thing coming. NG Kids My Shot is a moderated community where young photographers can tell their stories through pictures. Many bats can find their prey by giving off high-pitched squeaks and listening out for the echoes that return. Its echolocation calls are 10 to 100 times quieter than those of other moth-hunting bats and these whispers allow it to sneak up on its prey. To his surprise, he found that it specialises almost entirely on eared moths, which make up around 90% of its menu. To that end, Hannah ter Hofstede set up elaborate natural laboratories where imprisoned moths were fitted with electrodes that measured the activity of neurons in their ears. As a Liesler’s bat approached the tethered moth, A1 fired when it was 33 metres away, and A2 fired when it was 19 metres away. Bats calls are incredibly loud; the calls are far too high-pitched for us to hear but the noisiest species are as loud as a jackhammer or a jet engine to us. A quieter call means that the barbastelle can’t detect moths from as great a distance as more thunderous species.
The barbastelle’s ninja-like behaviour gives it a major advantage in the bat-moth arms race, and allows it to exploit a source of food that other bats can’t touch. If they start responding to every soft, innocuous sound, they might be permanently on alert and miss out on important feeding or mating opportunities.
Phenomena is hosted by National Geographic magazine, which invites you to join the conversation.
No Place Like Home is her space to talk about space—from other worlds to the fabric of the universe. Laelaps is his writing laboratory, dedicated to sifting through natural history for tales of evolution, extinction, and survival. Not Exactly Rocket Science is his hub for talking about the awe-inspiring, beautiful and quirky world of science to as many people as possible. The world's third largest island, Borneo (map) is divided among Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei."On average, there are three new species found every month," said ecologist Adam Tomasek, leader of WWF's team for the 54-million-acre (22-million-hectare) Heart of Borneo region. Not if you're a Bornean flat-headed frog (pictured)a€”the world's only known frog without them.The lungless frog instead breathes through its skin. More than 3,000 orchid species are found on the islanda€”more than anywhere else on Earth, WWF says.The world's third largest island, also home to the critically endangered orangutan, is at risk of large-scale deforestation. A determined team of researchers, including hounds man and researcher Boone Smith, mount grueling expeditions in attempts to gain precious scientific data. You can remove any cookies already stored on your computer, but these may prevent you from using parts of our website.


This ability – echolocation – allows them to hunt night-flying insects like moths, which they skilfully pluck out of the air. It’s the latest move in an ongoing evolutionary dogfight and for now, the barbastelle has the upper wing. For comparison, moths (not just eared ones) only account for 10% of the diet of Leisler’s bat, which has a similar size, foraging habits and call frequency. Bats flew around the cages (without attacking the moths) and a circle of four microphones recorded their calls. Such screams are a dead giveaway to any moth that can actually hear them, but the barbastelle’s calls are 10 to 100 times softer. Leisler’s bat can spot moths at up to 15 metres; the barbastelle has a maximum range of just five. For now, he thinks that the threat of sneaky barbastelles isn’t severe enough to demand a countermeasure – the so-called “rare enemy effect”. Some species jam the sonar of bats with clicks of their own, causing their attackers to fumble their approach at the last minute. Without lungs, the frog's body is flatter, which allows the animal to maneuver better in fast-flowing streams.
As day breaks, the frog fades to a camouflaging rusty brown skin and red eyes.Mulu flying frogs spend most of their time in the trees, making the animals "extremely elusive," Tomasek said. The story features F51, a young crafty female who makes her way through the winter, but is tested as she struggles to bring her unborn litter to a healthy birth. But moths have developed countermeasures; some have evolved ears that allow them to hear the calls of a hunting bat and take evasive action.
Through this intricate set-up, Goerlitz could record what the bats were saying and what the moths were hearing as they drew near. Its hearing is also very sensitive, so it almost always hears the echoes from the moth before the evasive A2 neuron picks up its calls, and sometimes even before A1 catches on.
Our matron, wise F109, carries in her radio collar crucial scientific data, but she's a ghost, and a true master of escape. At that point, contact is less than half a second away, and any dodging probably comes too late. They have a whole arsenal of potential countermeasures available to them, including some that we’ve doubtlessly failed to think of yet.



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