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Echolocation Not What We Thought?


Bats may not be flying in the way we previously thought, says a new study. (Photo : Wikimedia Commons)

When bats echolocate as they fly, they are able to do so in utter darkness and avoid all obstacles. We know that, but a new study has findings saying that echolocation might be simpler--and less aware of each barrier--than previously thought, according to a release.

Usually it is assumed that bats find each obstacle by interpreting echoes. That would be confusing, though, in areas in which many obstacles produce a variety of echoes.
The new research, published in PLOS Computational Biology, says that bats likely hear an echo's volume in both ears, compares the two volumes, and turns away from the area that has the loudest echo to avoid the nearer object.
In their study, researchers from the University of Bristol (U.K.) and University of Antwerp (Belgium) did models of bats flying through 2D and 3D environments. In these, bats flew through laser-scanned models of actual forests.

In the 2D and 3D environments, bats seemed to guide themselves by whether the echo delay was shorter or not, judging from this that the barrier was closer. From this, it seems clear that bats are relying on relative loudness in their ears, not on knowing where the obstacles are, as the release confirmed.

Would you like to hear bats' echolocating calls? The University of Bristol has a file of them here.

Bat Week, October 25-31, is organized by several nonprofits. During that week, Bat Conservation International has a goal for volunteers to build 5,000 new bat houses. Would you like to be involved?

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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