Research ArticleECOLOGY

Fireflies thwart bat attack with multisensory warnings

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Science Advances  22 Aug 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 8, eaat6601
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aat6601

Abstract

Many defended animals prevent attacks by displaying warning signals that are highly conspicuous to their predators. We hypothesized that bioluminescing fireflies, widely known for their vibrant courtship signals, also advertise their noxiousness to echolocating bats. To test this postulate, we pit naïve big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus) against chemically defended fireflies (Photinus pyralis) to examine whether and how these beetles transmit salient warnings to bats. We demonstrate that these nocturnal predators learn to avoid noxious fireflies using either vision or echolocation and that bats learn faster when integrating information from both sensory streams—providing fundamental evidence that multisensory integration increases the efficacy of warning signals in a natural predator-prey system. Our findings add support for a warning signal origin of firefly bioluminescence and suggest that bat predation may have driven evolution of firefly bioluminescence.

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