Captain’s Log: Silent Flying Predators Drive Insect Silence | Outside

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I sat outside in the early evening just as the sky turned a dark royal blue, but still with some contrast and visibility. This was a magical and serene moment, even with the constant loud scratching of crickets.

I love this sound, so I listened carefully to the sound that seemed to come from all directions, near and far. I tried to isolate the sounds of crickets down in the streambed near my house and those coming in the other direction, across the street and in my own backyard.

The whole satisfying moment was shaken in a split second by sudden silence. As fast as you can snap your fingers, all the crickets in my listening area fell silent. I haven’t heard anything that could provoke such an immediate reaction from the entire neighborhood.

It was too dark to see much, so I doubted the crickets saw anything. It turned out that I was wrong. As I looked around, I looked up at the sky and opened my eyes wide to take in all the faint light I could. As I stared at the sky, I noticed lightning-fast stealthy movements. Things moved like a bat out of hell up there.

Suddenly the light bulb went on in my head. Bats! Someone here has bats in the bell tower (perhaps in more ways than one) and these exploding animals had gone hunting in the early twilight.

This reality has obviously not been lost to the crickets and probably many other insects. When bats are hunting, it’s a bad time being a bug. Bats have natural hunting skills in low light like no other land or sky creature I know, although there are some marine life that are in their league underwater.

Bats hunt insects with almost supernatural powers. They have good ears and can hear insects rustle or chirp while barbecuing. Their low-light vision is amazing, and they can scan an area even as they are flying through the air at alarming speeds, then turn on a dime and snap an insect for its meal.

Eyesight isn’t a bat’s best weapon, however. They have the ability to echo localize (almost like radar, but sonic) even at high speed, and I’ve read that what they can see at 20 feet can be echoed at 40 feet. So echo location gives them a long view and identifies targets. Up close, their eyesight helps guide them to kill.

It is a dangerous world for bugs because almost everything but large predators will want to eat them and even large predators make exceptions. Just at a time of the evening when you think a poor bug can relax, some of the greatest night robbers of them all come out. It’s a jungle out there!

– Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is President of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit that provides maritime opportunities to those in need. Visit softininc.blogspot.com to learn more about the organization and how you can help. Click here to read the previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.