Moths Got Their Flashy Tails to Deflect Bats

The long wing-tails help the moths to create an acoustic illusion and deflect bats to look elsewhere.
Kashyap Vyas

It is very natural to see bats chase their prey. Bats possess an accurate sonar finder through which they zero in on their prey. However, when it comes to moths, they have a clever capability to thwart all attempts of finding them using jamming signals and finder clicks.

Recently, a group of researchers discovered that when moths encounter bats, they develop something called as an “acoustic illusion” that fools the bats into looking elsewhere for the moths. As a result of this special ability, bats loom for their prey in the wrong location.

This research supplies some valuable information about why these moths develop flashy tails, and speculations have it that this could also be applied to the concept of drones in the future.

The tails of moths differ from moth to moth. There have been countless studies and research conducted in the past about moth tails.

Some even observed that a few silk moths utilize their tails to confuse bats and other predators. However, a new study led by a college student named Juliette Rubin has disclosed precisely why the moth tails have such ingenious capabilities.

Rubin and team worked with three distinct types of moths – Polyphemus, African Moon, and Luna. She cut the tails of one kind completely, shortened the tails of the other kind and elongated the tails of the third kind by gluing together the cut pieces of tails.

The findings were quite fascinating! It was observed that the moths who had no tail barely escaped from the predators with only 27% fleeing to safety. On the flipside, the long-tailed moths got away 75% of the time as they escaped just as the bats caught a part of their tails.


Talking about the short-tailed moths, barely 45% of them could escape. These results clearly demonstrated that the moth tails are a life-saving attribute that assists them in staying safe from predators such as bats.  

 “The authors have demonstrated a powerful approach for understanding the diversity of moth shapes. There appear to be many different ways to trick a bat’s echolocation system,said Aaron Corcoran, an animal ecologist at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “The fact that the bats in the study never learned how to catch these moths, despite ample time to do so, shows how hard-wired this blind spot is in the bat’s perception.”

These findings might be limited to the study of prey & a predator and might not go beyond to higher fields such as robotics. However, Martin How, a sensory ecologist at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom states that this research might benefit engineers in developing bio-inspired technologies in the future that might consist of deftly flying drones.

This is, indeed, a rather neat discovery made by Rubin and his team. These and many other speculations continue as researchers and scientists explore the possibilities and the immense scope of this new development to see how they can exploit this knowledge to use in the area of drones in the future.