Moths have evolved thick ‘stealth coats’ to stop hungry bats from hearing them fly, claims scientist

  • Many types of moths are deaf the insects have developed ‘stealth coating’ 
  • The fur on a moth’s thorax and wing joints reduce noise when flying 
  • The thorax moth fur acts as a sound absorber offering them survival advantage
  • Removing the fur increased the moths detection risk by as much as 38 percent
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Moths have evolved thick ‘stealth coats’ to stop hungry bats from hearing them fly, one scientist has claimed.  

Moths are a mainstay food source for bats which use biological sonar to hunt their prey.

While some moths have evolved ears that detect the ultrasonic calls of bats, many types of moths remain deaf. 

Thomas Neil from Bristol University found the insects have developed what he calls a ‘stealth coating’ that serves as an acoustic cover. 

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Moths (pictured) have evolved thick ‘stealth coats’ to stop hungry bats from hearing them fly, one scientist has claimed

Dr Neil says moths have evolved passive defences over millions of years to resist their primary predators. 

His research has focused on how fur on a moth’s thorax and wing joints reduces how audible they are to bats.

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‘Thoracic fur provides substantial acoustic stealth at all ecologically relevant ultrasonic frequencies,’ said Dr Neil.

‘The thorax moth fur acts as a lightweight porous sound absorber, facilitating acoustic camouflage and offering a significant survival advantage.’

Removing the fur from the moth’s thorax increased its detection risk by as much as 38 per cent.

Neil says that the fur acts as a ‘stealth coating’ which increases their chances of survival against bats. The research found that the thick, dense fur absorbs the sound energy

Dr Neil used acoustic tomography to quantify the echo strength of two deaf moth species that are subject to bat predation and two butterfly species that are not.

In comparing the effects of removing thorax fur from insects that serve as food for bats to those that don’t, Dr Neil’s research team found that thoracic fur determines acoustic camouflage of moths but not butterflies.

‘We found that the fur on moths was both thicker and denser than that of the butterflies, and these parameters seem to be linked with the absorptive performance of their respective furs,’ Dr Neil said. 

‘The thorax fur of the moths was able to absorb up to 85 per cent of the impinging sound energy. 

‘The maximum absorption we found in butterflies was just 20 per cent.’

Dr Neil’s research could contribute to the development of biomimetic materials for ultrathin sound absorbers and other noise-control devices. 

Dr Neil will describe his work during the Acoustical Society of America’s 176th Meeting, held in conjunction with the Canadian Acoustical Association’s 2018 Acoustics Week in Victoria, Canada, this week. 


English Heritage has drawn up a guide to stopping moth infestations based on 20 years of experience protecting historic collections from insect pests.

The top tips for preventing clothes moth infestations include:

– Check for moths in the creases, folds and behind labels of clothing

– Keep your items in vacuum bags to stop clothes moths reaching them

– Take out items from the wardrobe and give them a good shake at least once a month to disturb the moths

– Failing that, declutter your wardrobes of any clothes you don’t wear regularly

– Moths hide in dark and hidden areas, so vacuum every nook and cranny, including inside wardrobes, when you clean the home

– Avoid buying second-hand furniture, clothes and upholstery is they can contain moths or their larvae

– Moths like warm spaces: Turn off the radiators in your home once it gets warm in summer and open all the windows regularly to allow air to circulate 

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