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Biol Lett. 2009 June 23; 5(3): 368–371.
Published online 2009 March 25. doi:  10.1098/rsbl.2009.0079
PMCID: PMC2679932

Tiger moths and the threat of bats: decision-making based on the activity of a single sensory neuron


Echolocating bats and eared moths are a model system of predator–prey interaction within an almost exclusively auditory world. Through selective pressures from aerial-hawking bats, noctuoid moths have evolved simple ears that contain one to two auditory neurons and function to detect bat echolocation calls and initiate defensive flight behaviours. Among these moths, some chemically defended and mimetic tiger moths also produce ultrasonic clicks in response to bat echolocation calls; these defensive signals are effective warning signals and may interfere with bats' ability to process echoic information. Here, we demonstrate that the activity of a single auditory neuron (the A1 cell) provides sufficient information for the toxic dogbane tiger moth, Cycnia tenera, to decide when to initiate defensive sound production in the face of bats. Thus, despite previous suggestions to the contrary, these moths' only other auditory neuron, the less sensitive A2 cell, is not necessary for initiating sound production. However, we found a positive linear relationship between combined A1 and A2 activity and the number of clicks the dogbane tiger moth produces.

Keywords: antipredator behaviour, neuroethology, sensory ecology, cognitive ecology

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