We discovered an auditory sense in a night-flying scarab beetle, Euetheola humilis, the first scarab to be shown to hear airborne sounds. In the field, beetles were captured beneath speakers broadcasting ultrasound that simulated bat echolocation pulses. Apparently, the beetles took evasive action from a potential bat predator and flew into the traps. Using another behavioral assay in laboratory studies, the beetles were sensitive to frequencies ranging from 20 to 70 kHz at levels between 60 and 70 dB SPL. One component of the behavioral response, a head roll, was graded with stimulus intensity, and the number of potentials in electromyographic recordings from muscles involved in the roll increased as stimulus intensity increased. The response latency was about 40 ms at threshold, decreasing to about 30 ms at 20 dB above threshold. The beetle's short response latency is ideally suited for predator avoidance behavior and the frequency tuning of the response suggests that it could function in evasion from insectivorous bats. The beetle's acoustic sensitivity is remarkably similar to that of other night-flying insects showing ultrasound-induced startle and it should provide these scarab beetles with a similar advance warning of predation risk.

This content is only available via PDF.