Dynamics of the echolocation beam during prey pursuit in aerial hawking bats

Lasse Jakobsen, Mads Nedergaard Olsen, Annemarie Surlykke

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In the evolutionary arms race between prey and predator, measures and countermeasures continuously evolve to increase survival on both sides. Bats and moths are prime examples. When exposed to intense ultrasound, eared moths perform dramatic escape behaviors. Vespertilionid and rhinolophid bats broaden their echolocation beam in the final stage of pursuit, presumably as a countermeasure to keep evading moths within their "acoustic field of view." In this study, we investigated if dynamic beam broadening is a general property of echolocation when catching moving prey. We recorded three species of emballonurid bats, Saccopteryx bilineata, Saccopteryx leptura, and Rhynchonycteris naso, catching airborne insects in the field. The study shows that S. bilineata and S. leptura maintain a constant beam shape during the entire prey pursuit, whereas R. naso broadens the beam by lowering the peak call frequency from 100 kHz during search and approach to 67 kHz in the buzz. Surprisingly, both Saccopteryx bats emit calls with very high energy throughout the pursuit, up to 60 times more than R. naso and Myotis daubentonii (a similar sized vespertilionid), providing them with as much, or more, peripheral "vision" than the vespertilionids, but ensonifying objects far ahead suggesting more clutter. Thus, beam broadening is not a fundamental property of the echolocation system. However, based on the results, we hypothesize that increased peripheral detection is crucial to all aerial hawking bats in the final stages of prey pursuit and speculate that beam broadening is a feature characterizing more advanced echolocation.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number26
Pages (from-to)8118-8123
Publication statusPublished - 30. Jun 2015


  • Bat
  • Buzz
  • Directionality
  • Echolocation
  • Perception


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