Echolocation

Bats navigate and find insect prey using echolocation. They produce sound waves at frequencies above human hearing, called ultrasound. The sound waves emitted by bats bounce off objects in their environment. Then, the sounds return to the bats' ears, which are finely tuned to recognize their own unique calls. Scientists and managers can identify and study bats by recording their calls with specialized microphones and recording devices. The bat calls can be translated into forms humans can see and hear.

For example, bats use echolocation when they're hunting. You can call it a "feeding buzz," and it works like this: When a bat detects an insect it wants to eat, it produces a rapid series of calls to pin-point the exact location of its prey, the swoops in, and GULP! - dinner.

Bats can change their calls for different purposes. They have different searching, feeding, and social calls. And each species of bat has its own unique call pattern. Experience life as a bat at Carlsbad Caverns. Also, listen to the calls below, following along with the spectrograms, the graphs of the sounds made by bats that show the frequencies of sound waves over time. Can you hear the difference?

spectrogram of big brown bat echolocation call

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Last updated: October 18, 2016

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