Image of the Day: Fire Alarm
Image of the Day: Fire Alarm

Image of the Day: Fire Alarm

Bats use both echolocation and vision to avoid eating unpleasant fireflies.

Sukanya Charuchandra
Sukanya Charuchandra

Originally from Mumbai, Sukanya Charuchandra is a freelance science writer based out of wherever her travels take her. She holds master’s degrees in Science Journalism and Biotechnology. You can read...

View full profile.


Learn about our editorial policies.

Aug 24, 2018

ABOVE: Firefly (Photinus pyralis)
DR. STEPHEN MARSHALL

Bats avoid fireflies based on their bioluminescence and movements, according to a study published August 22 in Science Advances. Previously, researchers thought fireflies used light only for the purposes of attracting mates.

Researchers forced interactions between the glowing insects and bats that were unaccustomed to the fireflies. The bats initially consumed the bugs, but over time they learned to avoid them. 

A bat first pursues a palatable scarab beetle (Callistethus marginatus) in flight, which it subsequently ingests. In the second interaction a bat captures then drops a firefly (Photinus pyralis). Finally, after several subsequent firefly interactions, a bat approaches and avoids another firefly.
BARBER LAB, BOISE STATE UNIVERSITY

After the researchers obscured the glowing bits of the fireflies with paint, the bats ate the insects, indicating that bioluminescence was a warning sign. In another experiment,...

B.C. Leavell et al., “Fireflies thwart bat attack with multisensory warnings,” Sci Adv, doi:10.1126/sciadv.aat6601, 2018.

Interested in reading more?

Image of the Day: Fire Alarm

The Scientist ARCHIVES

Become a Member of

Receive full access to more than 35 years of archives, as well as TS Digest, digital editions of The Scientist, feature stories, and much more!
Already a member?