Bats jam each other in echolocation battles for food

Written by: Lisa Stelzner

Primary Source: Daily Dose of Science Blog

Most bats use echolocation to find food by bouncing the sounds they make off of any objects nearby to detect where flying prey may be located.  This is a very effective technique for them because they are nocturnal and hunt at night, when they would not be able to see most or any of the flying insects that they eat. Since bats usually roost in groups, though, there could be large numbers of them going to hunt in the same area at the same time.  An individual bat needs to look out for its best interests and get enough food to feed itself.  Scientists recently recorded siren-like sequences in Mexican free-tailed bat calls that were unusual.  They ended up shining a spotlight on bats from a platform and playing the recorded sounds back to them, and found that when the calls were well-timed, they could prevent a bat from catching prey over 85% of the time.  This means the unusual siren calls are used by bats to jam the echolocation of other bats in the area so they can’t find all the food sources. This is the first time jamming has been found in echolocating animal individuals of the same species.

The video in the link shows examples of normal bat hunting and what happens when their calls are jammed.  Pretty cool!

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Lisa Stelzner
I'm a plant biology PhD student studying monarch butterflies in Michigan, but I'm interested in lots of other types of science, too. I am interested in how breeding monarch butterflies choose their habitat based on floral species richness and abundance. Few studies have been conducted on optimal foraging theory when it involves an organism searching for two different kinds of resources, and butterflies are an ideal study system to investigate this, since many species are ovipositing specialists and only lay eggs on one species of hostplant, but are feeding generalists and nectar from a broad variety of flowering forbs.