Animals

Echolocating Bats

by Marcia Malory

Echolocating bats, members of the suborder Microchiroptera, are bats that navigate by means of echolocation.

This means that they emit sounds and use the echoes that are created when the sound waves bounce off objects to determine their position in relation to these objects.

Echolocating bats can be found on every continent in the world except Antarctica.

Most echolocating bats eat insects.

Some echolocating bats eat nectar, fruit or small vertebrates.

Vampire bats, members of the subfamily Desmodontinae, feed on the blood of mammals and birds. They are echolocating bats.

California leaf-nosed bat. This bat belongs to the same family as the vampire bats.Vampire bats are part of a family of echolocating bats known as New World leaf-nosed bats (Phyllostomidae).

The smallest bat in the world, the bumblebee bat (Craseonycteris thonglongyai), is an echolocating bat. It lives in Burma and Thailand. This bat, which is also known as Kitti's hog-nosed bat, weighs about two grams and is slightly more than one inch long.  The bumblebee bat is the smallest living mammal on Earth.

Echolocating bats tend to be smaller than flying foxes (or fruit bats). This is why echolocating bats were given the scientific name Microchiroptera, while flying foxes are known as Megachiroptera. ("Micro" comes from the Greek word for small; "mega" comes from the Greek word for large.)

Echolocation

Echolocating bats use echolocation to hunt and to avoid bumping into things when they fly.

When a microchiropteran echolocates, it produces a sound in its larynx, or voice box.  This sound is then emitted through the bat's nostrils or through its mouth.

Some echolocating bats that emit sounds through their nostrils have folds, known as "leaves", around their nostrils. These are believed to help modify the sounds that the bat produces.

The sounds that an echolocating bat produces are ultrasonic - too high to be heard by a human being.

After a sound wave hits an object, it will bounce back toward the bat. The bat will then analyze the echo to learn about the object.  By analyzing the objects around it in this way, the bat is able to create a "map" of its environment, to find prey and to avoid predators.

Echolocating bats have wide ears that stick out.  This helps to improve their hearing.

Because echolocating bats are able to use sound to navigate, they do not have to rely on sight very much. Consequently, they do not need much light.

This allows them to live in dark caves and to hunt at night.

Although echolocating bats can see, they are not able to see very well.

While humans cannot hear the sounds that echolocating bats make, some other animals can.

This can cause problems for these bats.

Prey animals may be able to hear the sounds and get away before the bats can catch them.

Some moths have evolved complex ears that make it easy for them to hear bat sounds.

Some insects emit sounds of their own that confuse echolocating bats.

The ability to hear the sounds produced by an echolocating bat makes it easier for a predator to find and catch the bat.