Behavioral Responses of Big Brown Bats to Dives by Praying Mantises

Hanging bats

    Insectivorous echolocating bats face a formidable array of defenses employed by their airborne prey. One such insect defense is the ultrasound-triggered dive, which is a sudden, rapid drop in altitude, sometimes all the way to the ground. Although many previous studies have investigated the dynamics of such dives and their effect on insect survival rate, there has been little work on how bats may adapt to such an insect defense employed in the middle of pursuit. In this study we investigated how big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus) adjust their pursuit strategy when flying praying mantises (Parasphendale agrionina) execute evasive, ultrasound-triggered dives. Although the mantis dive occasionally forced the bat to completely abort its chase (25% trials), in a number of cases (75% trials) the bat followed the mantis into the dive. In such cases the bat kept its sonar beam locked onto the target and maneuvered to maintain the same time efficient strategy it adopted during level flight pursuit, though it was ultimately defeated by the dive. This study suggests that although the mantis dive can be effective in evading the bat, it does not always deter the bat from continuing pursuit and, given enough altitude, the bat can potentially capture diving prey using the same flight strategy it employs to intercept prey in level flight.