The Tiger Moth's Lesson For The Pentagon

BATS ARE CRUISE MISSILES OF THE ANIMAL KINGDOM. They locate a target with a sophisticated sonar system, then hit it going 75 mph. Most prey never have a prayer.

Yet a moth from the Tiger family (photo) regularly escapes--because bats often veer away just as they are about to snatch a Tiger moth. Scientists have known about the moth's dramatic escapes for two decades, but how the moth does it has remained a mystery.

Now, University of Toronto zoologist James H. Fullard thinks he has found the explanation: Tiger moths emit an ultrasonic clicking sound that closely resembles a bat's echo-location signal, or sonar. The clicks may jam the bat sonar in much the same way that military jamming techniques confound enemy radar. Or the signals could prompt the bat to abort its attack for other reasons, since Tiger moths appear to be unappetizing--bats rarely devour the ones they do catch.

To decide the issue, a controlled experiment with trained bats will be staged this fall. The outcome could point the way to efficient bat repellers. And it might also pay off for the Pentagon. If moths can jam a bat's sonar, which is more accurate than the best military systems, the Pentagon will surely want to try to tame this Tiger.