Cues for acoustic detection of prey: Insect rustling sounds and the influence of walking substrate

Holger R. Goerlitz, Stefan Greif, Björn M. Siemers*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


When insects walk, they generally produce sounds. These can reveal the walkers' presence and location to potential predators such as owls, bats and nocturnal primates. Additionally, predators might extract information on taxon, palatability, size or profitability from the rustling sounds. In contrast to ear morphology, hearing physiology and psychoacoustics of acoustically oriented predators, little attention has hitherto been paid to the acoustic structure and information content of prey sounds. An important element in the ecology of acoustic prey detection remained virtually unexplored: the influence of the substrate type on rustling sounds. In this study, we analysed amplitude and frequency parameters from insects walking on various natural substrates, in both Germany (Carabus beetles) and Madagascar (various beetles and cockroaches). The data show that rustling sound amplitude and frequency content depend on substrate type. On moist substrates arthropods produced less intense and less broadband rustling sounds than on dry substrates. Sound pressure level was reduced by about 6 dB, halving the detection range for the predator. For a given insect, rustling sound amplitude increased with walking speed. Finally, we found that the previously established correlation of arthropod size and rustling amplitude holds across multiple substrates. Based on these data, we provide for the first time estimates of realistic detection distances in the field. These distances range from below 1 m to over 13m, depending on the substrate, insect mass, walking speed and background noise level. These estimates are crucial for an understanding of the foraging ecology, foraging efficiency and sensory ecology of acoustic predators.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2799-2806
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number17
StatePublished - Sep 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Auditory
  • Detection distance
  • Foraging
  • Hearing
  • Prey detection
  • Sensory ecology


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