Bats use sonar jamming to steal food

Nov 25, 2014

AP Photo/Merlin D. Tuttle, Bat Conservation International

By Amina Khan

In case you didn’t already think that bats’ ability to navigate with their ears instead of their eyes was cool enough, get this: Mexican free-tailed bats can actually use biological sonar to jam the signals of other bats and steal their food.

The findings, published in the journal Science, reveal a heretofore unknown sonic weapon in the arsenal of these impressive echolocating animals.

Bats move through the world by sending out high-pitched calls and judging  distances to the objects around them based on the sound that bounces back. As they get closer and closer to their prey — say, a tasty moth fluttering through the air — they speed up those calls to home in on their target.

It’s the same concept that underlies radar and sonar technology, which harness radio and sound waves, respectively, to locate distant objects. But what scientists didn’t know is that bats don’t just sense these signals; they can jam them, too.

“It’s the same solution that sonar and radar engineers came to for jamming sonar and radar for military purposes,” said study co-author William Conner, an animal behaviorist at Wake Forest University. “And the cool thing about it is, bats came up with this idea about 65 million years earlier than the engineers.”


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One comment on “Bats use sonar jamming to steal food”

  • One has to sign in with Science to access the study, although I did find the PDF rummaging around the net.

    Fascinating stuff (diagram of competitors), although Ed Yong of NatGeo states “If (emphasis mine) proved correct (researcher’s findings), the Mexican free-tailed bat will be the first non-human animal to compete with a rival using its senses”.

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