Last updated: July 25, 2017
Crop pests: eaten. Rare plants: pollinated, seeds dispersed. Hopefully by now most of us know the ecological and economic benefits that bats bring to the table. Not the rabid, blood suckers as they’ve been portrayed in the past. Did you know, though, that each bat species speaks a “language” that humans cannot hear? And that some bats can communicate with each other and recognize each other by sound – much like humans do?
When bats echolocate, they are bouncing sounds off of objects, such as obstacles, prey, and other bats. It helps them maneuver. It helps them recognize when and where to stay out of the way. Some bats, as it turns out, also lend their voices as a tool to communicate with each other.
If it were translated to English, an example conversation would be similar to this: “Hey, it’s Mike.” “Hey Mike! This is Bob.” Most social bat communication is recognizing the individual by sound, much like we can recognize the people we know by their voice. It’s the bats way of letting others know who’s around.
Bats are really loud. They can emit calls as low as 50 decibels and as high as 140 decibels! For reference, a thunderclap is 120 decibels! The bats with louder, more intense calls tend to be the same species that echolocate at higher frequencies. Higher frequency sounds do not travel as far as lower frequency sounds, so in theory, higher frequency bats are emitting louder noises to compensate. Thankfully, their calls are at such a high frequency, we can’t hear them.
A Mexican free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis). This species is one of the most common visitors to Cabrillo National Monument. (Photo credit: USFWS/Ann Froschauer)
Bats are not the only terrestrial animals that echolocate in Cabrillo National Monument. Stay tuned to find out about another small, fuzzy creature that uses this feature!
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