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Ultrasound avoidance by flying antlions (Myrmeleontidae)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Article numberjeb189308
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number21
Early online date17 Sep 2018
DateAccepted/In press - 4 Sep 2018
DateE-pub ahead of print - 17 Sep 2018
DatePublished (current) - 29 Oct 2018


The acoustic arms race between insectivorous bats and their invertebrate prey has led to the convergent evolution of ultrasound hearing in seven orders of nocturnal insects. Upon hearing the echolocation calls of an approaching bat such insects take defensive action. Here we document an unknown sense of ultrasound hearing and phonotactic flight behaviour in the neuropteran family Myrmeleontidae (antlions). The antlion Myrmeleon hyalinus was presented with sound pulses at ultrasonic frequencies used by echolocating bats and its response thresholds in tethered flight determined. Behaviours included abdominal twitches, wing-flicks, brief pauses in flight and flight cessation. Such behaviours create erratic evasive flight manoeuvres in other eared insects, particularly mantids and lacewings. Antlions responded best to ultrasound between 60-80 kHz (75 dB peSPL at 80 kHz) showing response thresholds similar to the related lacewings (Neuroptera, Chrysopidae). Yet at lower ultrasonic frequencies (20-50 kHz) antlions were far less sensitive than lacewings. Based on calculated response distances we conclude that antlions respond only after having been detected by bats rather than using early evasive flights. We argue that the high response threshold for low frequency ultrasound is adaptive for an insect that is mainly active close to and within vegetation, because a behavioural response to the lower ultrasonic frequencies used by high-flying bats would result in evasive action in the absence of actual predation risk.

    Research areas

  • Neuroptera, Insect hearing, Bioacoustics, Bat echolocation, Desert

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    Rights statement: This is the author accepted manuscript (AAM). The final published version (version of record) is available online via Company of Biologists at . Please refer to any applicable terms of use of the publisher.

    Accepted author manuscript, 199 KB, PDF document


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