How the bat got its buzz

John M Ratcliffe, Coen P H Elemans, Lasse Jakobsen, Annemarie Surlykke

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Since the discovery of echolocation in bats, the final phase of an attack on a flying insect, the 'terminal buzz', has proved enigmatic. During the buzz, bats increase information update rates by producing vocalizations up to 220 times s21. The buzz's ubiquity in hawking and trawling bats implies its importance for hunting success. Superfast muscles, previously unknown in mammals, are responsible for the extreme vocalization rate. Some bats produce a second phase-buzz II-defined by a large drop in the fundamental frequency (F0) of their calls. By doing so, bats broaden their acoustic field of view and should thereby reduce the likelihood of insect escape. We make the case that the buzz was a critical adaptation for capturing night-flying insects, and suggest that the drop in F0 during buzz II requires novel, unidentified laryngeal mechanisms in order to counteract increasing muscle tension. Furthermore, we propose that buzz II represents a countermeasure against the evasive flight of eared prey in the evolutionary arms-race that saw the independent evolution of bat-detecting ears in various groups of night-flying insects.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBiology Letters
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)20121031
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Acoustic field of view
  • Bats
  • Echolocation
  • Superfast muscles
  • Terminal buzz


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