Ultrasound avoidance by flying antlions (Myrmeleontidae) [RESEARCH ARTICLE]

Marc W. Holderied, Liam A. Thomas, and Carmi Korine

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 a previously 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 and 80 kHz (75 dB peSPL at 80 kHz), showing response thresholds similar to those of 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.

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