What determines whether fleeing prey escape from attacking predators? To answer this question, biologists have developed mathematical models that incorporate attack geometries, pursuit and escape trajectories, and kinematics of predator and prey. These models have rarely been tested using data from actual predator-prey encounters. To address this problem we recorded multi-camera infrared videography of bat-insect interactions in a large outdoor enclosure. We documented 235 attacks by four Myotis volans bats on a variety of moths. Bat and moth flight trajectories from 50 high-quality attacks were reconstructed in 3-D. Despite having higher maximum velocity, deceleration, and overall turning ability, bats only captured evasive prey in 69 of 184 attacks (37.5%); bats captured nearly all moths not evading attack (50 of 51; 98%). Logistic regression indicated that prey radial acceleration and escape angle were the most important predictors of escape success (44 of 50 attacks correctly classified; 88%). We found partial support for the turning gambit mathematical model; however it underestimated the escape threshold by 25% of prey velocity and did not account for prey escape angle. Whereas most prey escaping strikes flee away from predators, moths typically escaped chasing bats by turning with high radial acceleration toward ‘safety zones’ that flank the predator. This strategy may be widespread in prey engaged in chases. Based on these findings we developed a novel geometrical model of predation. We discuss implications of this model for the co-evolution of predator and prey kinematics and pursuit and escape strategies.
- Received January 18, 2016.
- Accepted June 17, 2016.
- © 2016. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd