Echolocation: It’s a Bat’s Life


As the only mammal that can fly, bats are incredibly intriguing and often misunderstood. Largely nocturnal, the way bats use sound to navigate and locate their prey is a marvel of nature.

Bats

© u.perreten / Adobe Stock

 

Bats uncovered

Although bat numbers have been in decline in recent years, there are said to be over 900 species in existence today throughout the world. In fact, bats account for a quarter of all mammals in the UK.

Bats enjoy a varied diet including fruits, nectar, invertebrates and even blood, although the majority feed on insects. Most species sleep during the day and come out at night to forage. This is a time when insects are most abundant, but also when fewer bat predators are around.

Bats are pretty good at catching their prey. In fact, a single brown bat is capable of hoovering up 1,200 insects in an hour. Plus, it takes just 20 minutes for a bat to digest a meal, meaning they have a very fast metabolism.

 

Sound, hearing and navigation

Thanks to the unique structure of their wings, bats can easily and quickly move around, enabling them to catch many insects in a single feeding frenzy, but it’s how they communicate and navigate during flight that is the most impressive facet of these small mammals.

Bats emit an ultrasonic clicking sound from their nose or mouth during flight. This sound wave bounces against objects (including their prey) to create an echo that bats then analyse to understand more about their surrounding environment. The intensity, duration and pitch of the echo can tell a bat where an object is, its size and its shape. The larger the object, the louder the echo is transmitted to the bat. The higher the pitch of the echo compared to the initial sound wave, the nearer the object, or prey, is to the bat.

Distinctive folds on the ears of a bat also enable it to hear sounds in one ear before the other ear, so it can determine which direction the echo is coming from, or whereabouts exactly its prey is located.

Bats use this sound communication process (known as echolocation) to hunt, but also to avoid bumping into objects during flight. Echolocation is so precise and sophisticated that a bat can sense objects as fine as a human hair.

Most bat sounds are inaudible to human hearing as they are extremely high pitched, although it is possible to hear some clicking noises from certain species – different kilohertz of sound are emitted by different bats.

 

As blind as a bat

It’s a common misconception that bats are blind. Indeed, they do use sight to help them navigate. However, these flying mammals rely heavily on their hearing to hunt at night. Without this echolocation system used for hearing and communication, many species of bats wouldn’t be able to survive – although, interestingly, not all bats, such as the fruit bat, are thought to navigate and hunt using echolocation.

Fortunately, most species have mastered the art of echolocation, affording them the greatest hearing abilities of all land mammals. By studying bat echolocation, scientists developed sonar and radar systems.

 

Sounds like a plan

Bats are certainly experts on the subject of sound, but if you would like to take advantage of professional sound control products and services from a reputable company with SafeContractor accreditation, get in touch with Sound Planning.

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