Intensity and directionality of bat echolocation signals

Lasse Jakobsen, Signe Brinkløv, Annemarie Surlykke

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


The paper reviews current knowledge of intensity and directionality of bat echolocation signals. Recent studies have revealed that echolocating bats can be much louder than previously believed. Bats previously dubbed "whispering" can emit calls with source levels up to 110 dB SPL at 10 cm and the louder open space hunting bats have been recorded at above 135 dB SPL. This implies that maximum emitted intensities are generally 30 dB or more above initial estimates. Bats' dynamic control of acoustic features also includes the intensity and directionality of their sonar calls. Aerial hawking bats will increase signal directionality in the field along with intensity thus increasing sonar range. During the last phase of prey pursuit, vespertilionid bats broaden their echolocation beam considerably, probably to counter evasive maneuvers of eared prey. We highlight how multiple call parameters (frequency, duration, intensity, and directionality of echolocation signals) in unison define the search volume probed by bats and in turn how bats perceive their surroundings. Small changes to individual parameters can, in combination, drastically change the bat's perception, facilitating successful navigation and food acquisition across a vast range of ecological niches. To better understand the function of echolocation in the natural habitat it is critical to determine multiple acoustic features of the echolocation calls. The combined (interactive) effects, not only of frequency and time parameters, but also of intensity and directionality, define the bat's view of its acoustic scene.
Original languageEnglish
Article number89
JournalFrontiers in Physiology
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Bat
  • Beam shape
  • Biosonar
  • Directionality
  • Echolocation
  • Intensity


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