Big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus) emit intense search calls and fly in stereotyped flight paths as they forage in the wild

Katrine Hulgard, Cynthia F. Moss, Lasse Jakobsen, Annemarie Surlykke

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The big brown bat, Eptesicus fuscus, uses echolocation for orientation and foraging, and scans its surroundings by aiming its sonar beam at obstacles and prey. All call parameters are highly adaptable and determine the bat's acoustic field of view and hence its perception of the echo scene. The intensity (source level) and directionality of the emitted calls directly contribute to the bat's acoustic field of view; however, the source level and directionality of the big brown bat's sonar signals have not been measured in the field. Inaddition, for bats, navigation and prey capture require that they process several streams of acoustic information. By using stereotypic flight paths in known areas, bats may be able to reduce the sensory processing load for orientation and therefore allocate echo processing resources to prey. Herewe recorded the echolocation calls from foragingE. fuscusinthe field with a microphone array and estimated call intensity and directionality, based on reconstructed flight trajectories. The source levels were intense with an average maximum source level of 138 dB (root mean square re. 20 μ Pa at 0.1 m). Furthermore, measurements taken from a subset of calls indicate that the echolocation signals in the field may be more directional than estimated in the laboratory (halfamplitude angle 30 deg at 35 kHz). We also observed that E. fuscus appear to follow stereotypic flight paths, and propose that this could be a strategy to optimize foraging efficiency by minimizing the sensory processing load.

Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Journal of Experimental Biology
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)334-340
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Directionality
  • Bat echolocation
  • Flight path
  • Attention
  • Source level
  • Sensory load
  • Predatory Behavior
  • Chiroptera/physiology
  • Flight, Animal
  • Orientation
  • Animals
  • Maryland
  • Echolocation
  • Feeding Behavior/physiology


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