Bats coordinate sonar and flight behavior as they forage in open and cluttered environments

Benjamin Falk, Lasse Jakobsen, Annemarie Surlykke, Cynthia F Moss

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Echolocating bats use active sensing as they emit sounds and listen to the returning echoes to probe their environment for navigation, obstacle avoidance and pursuit of prey. The sensing behavior of bats includes the planning of 3D spatial trajectory paths, which are guided by echo information. In this study, we examined the relationship between active sonar sampling and flight motor output as bats changed environments from open space to an artificial forest in a laboratory flight room. Using high-speed video and audio recordings, we reconstructed and analyzed 3D flight trajectories, sonar beam aim and acoustic sonar emission patterns as the bats captured prey. We found that big brown bats adjusted their sonar call structure, temporal patterning and flight speed in response to environmental change. The sonar beam aim of the bats predicted the flight turn rate in both the open room and the forest. However, the relationship between sonar beam aim and turn rate changed in the forest during the final stage of prey pursuit, during which the bat made shallower turns. We found flight stereotypy developed over multiple days in the forest, but did not find evidence for a reduction in active sonar sampling with experience. The temporal patterning of sonar sound groups was related to path planning around obstacles in the forest. Together, these results contribute to our understanding of how bats coordinate echolocation and flight behavior to represent and navigate their environment.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number24
Pages (from-to)4356-4364
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 15. Dec 2014


  • Echolocation
  • Flight behavior
  • Path planning
  • Spatial memory


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