The Moth Whisperer

Did you know that bats, Chiroptera, do not originally have to ability to echolocate when hunting?  Echolocation is an ability possessed by the bat to “send out sound waves and listen for echoes bouncing off objects, including prey.” (Handwerk, 2008). The fossil of a new bat species, Onychonycteris finneyi, which is about 52.5 million years old, has shown that bats originally fly to hunt (Handwerk, 2008).  However due to their nocturnal lifestyles, bats have evolved into an animal with the ability to echolocate. (Dell’Amore, 2010)

Yet, evolution of bats does not stop here. Barbastella barbastellus, a European bat, has developed the ability to whisper softly so as to avoid being notice by some moth species. Even moths with ears, such as the large yellow underwing moth, are unable to take precautions against Barbastella barbastellus.

In a study conducted by a group of researchers, Barbastella barbastellus can be at a distance of approximately 11 feet to the moth without being noticed. This is in contrast to 100 feet, the distance where eared moths are able to detect bats (Dell’Amore, 2010). This is because the Barbastella barbastellus’s echolocation calls are “hundred times fainter than those of other bats” (Dell’Amore, 2010). Thus, Barbastella barbastellus are especially skilled at hunting. This will effectively allow eared moths to be an exclusive source of food supply to Barbastella barbastellus.

This interesting behaviour was inspired by what was taught in the lectures, regarding communication between animals. Audio, is the specific channel of communication for this behaviour of Chiroptera.


Dell’Amore, C., 2010. “Whispering” Bat Evolved to Trick Prey. National Geographic News, 1 Sep 2010. Hosted on National Geographic:

Handwerk, B., 2008. Early Bats Flew First, Developed “Sonar” Later. National Geographic News, 13 Feb 2008. Hosted on National Geographic:


Vivienne Khoo

Group 11