The simple auditory system of noctuoid moths has long been a model for anti-predator studies in neuroethology, although these ears have rarely been experimentally stimulated by the sounds they would encounter from naturally attacking bats. We exposed the ears of five noctuoid moth species to the pre-recorded echolocation calls of an attacking bat (Eptesicus fuscus) to observe the acoustic encoding of the receptors at this critical time in their defensive behaviour. The B cell is a non-tympanal receptor common to all moths that has been suggested to respond to sound, but we found no evidence of this and suggest that its acoustic responsiveness is an artifact arising from its proprioceptive function. The A1 cell, the most sensitive tympanal receptor in noctuid and arctiid moths and the only auditory receptor in notodontid moths, encodes the attack calls with a bursting firing pattern to a point approximately 150 ms from when the bat would have captured the moth. At this point, the firing of the A1 cell reduces to a non-bursting pattern with longer inter-spike periods, suggesting that the moth may no longer express the erratic flight used to escape very close bats. This may be simply due to the absence of selection pressure on moths for auditory tracking of bat echolocation calls beyond this point. Alternatively, the reduced firing may be due to the acoustic characteristics of attack calls in the terminal phase and an acoustic maneuver used by the bat to facilitate its capture of the moth. Although the role of less sensitive A2 cell remains uncertain in the evasive flight responses of moths it may act as a trigger in eliciting sound production, a close-range anti-bat behaviour in the tiger moth, Cycnia tenera.

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Keywords Acoustic, Attacking bat, Auditory defence, Echolocation, Eptesicus fuscus, Noctuoid moth, Predator
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Journal Journal of Experimental Biology
Fullard, J.H. (James H.), Dawson, J.W, & Jacobs, D.S. (David S.). (2003). Auditory encoding during the last moment of a moth's life. Journal of Experimental Biology, 206(2), 281–294. doi:10.1242/jeb.00085