Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

How bats took over the night

Date:
December 12, 2013
Source:
American Friends of Tel Aviv University
Summary:
Blessed with the power of echolocation -- reflected sound -- bats rule the night skies. And while it seems that echolocation works together with normal vision to give bats an evolutionary edge, nobody knows exactly how. Now research suggests that bats use vision to keep track of where they're going and echolocation to hunt tiny insects that most nocturnal predators can't see. The findings add to scientific understanding of sensory evolution.

Blessed with the power of echolocation -- reflected sound -- bats rule the night skies. There are more than 1,000 species of these echolocating night creatures, compared with just 80 species of non-echolocating nocturnal birds. And while it seems that echolocation works together with normal vision to give bats an evolutionary edge, nobody knows exactly how.

Now Dr. Arjan Boonman and Dr. Yossi Yovel of Tel Aviv University's Department of Zoology suggest that bats use vision to keep track of where they're going and echolocation to hunt tiny insects that most nocturnal predators can't see. The findings, published in Frontiers in Physiology, add to our scientific understanding of sensory evolution.

"Imagine driving down the highway: Everything is clear in the distance, but objects are a blur when you pass them," said Dr. Boonman. "Well, echolocation gives bats the unique ability to home in on small objects -- mostly insects -- while flying at high speeds."

Battle of the senses

Bats do most of their feeding at dusk, when insects are most active and there is still plenty of light. Under these conditions, vision seems a better option than echolocation -- it conveys more information, and more quickly, at a higher resolution. The researchers wondered: If bats evolved vision before echolocation, as scientists believe, why did echolocation ever come along?

The team set out to answer this question by comparing the distances at which the two senses can detect small objects. To estimate the range of ultrasonic bat echolocation, the researchers played taped calls of two species of bats in a soundproof room and recorded the way the sound bounced off four dead insects -- a moth, an ant, a lacewing, and a mosquito. Vision is hard to simulate, so, extrapolating from the findings of two previous studies, the researchers calculated the distance at which bats would be able to see the same insects in medium to low light.

Even erring on the side of vision in their estimates, the researchers found that echolocation was twice as effective as vision in detecting the insects in medium to low light -- from 40 feet away versus the 20 feet that was the effective range with vision. They also note that echolocation is unaffected by objects in the background, while visual range is three-to-five fold worse when it has to contend with obstacles like vegetation. Previous studies have shown that echolocation provides more accurate estimates of the distance and velocity of objects, and sometimes even of the distance of the background behind them.

These results suggest that echolocation gives bats a huge evolutionary advantage, allowing them to track insects from further away and with greater accuracy at peak feeding time. Echolocation also, of course, allows bats to continue hunting into the night, when their competitors are blinded by darkness.

A one-two evolutionary punch

On the negative side, bat echolocation was poor at detecting large objects in the distance: Vision can detect large objects at distances several orders of magnitude greater than echolocation does. The researchers think that bats therefore use both senses in combination -- vision mostly for orientation, navigation, and avoiding large objects in the distance, and echolocation to search for small prey. Different species of bats probably combine the senses somewhat differently.

"We believe that bats are constantly integrating two streams of information -- one from vision and one from echolocation -- to create a single image of the world," said Dr. Yovel, also of TAU's Sagol School of Neuroscience. "This image has a higher definition than the one created by vision alone."

The combination of vision and echolocation opened up a large nocturnal advantage for bats in which they have multiplied and diversified -- bats account for 20 percent of all classified mammal species on earth today. The researchers speculate that nocturnal birds may not have evolved their own ultrasonic echolocation for anatomical reasons. The next steps are to research how bats integrate echolocation and vision and what the evolutionary costs of echolocation are.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by American Friends of Tel Aviv University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Arjan Boonman, Yinon Bar-On, Yossi Yovel, Noam Cvikel. It's not black or white—on the range of vision and echolocation in echolocating bats. Frontiers in Physiology, 2013; 4 DOI: 10.3389/fphys.2013.00248

Cite This Page:

American Friends of Tel Aviv University. "How bats took over the night." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 December 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131212123352.htm>.
American Friends of Tel Aviv University. (2013, December 12). How bats took over the night. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131212123352.htm
American Friends of Tel Aviv University. "How bats took over the night." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131212123352.htm (accessed August 23, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Endangered Red Wolves Face Uncertain Future

Endangered Red Wolves Face Uncertain Future

AP (Aug. 22, 2014) A federal judge temporarily banned coyote hunting to save endangered red wolves, but local hunters say that the wolf preservation program does more harm than good. Meanwhile federal officials are reviewing its wolf program in North Carolina. (Aug. 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Farm Resurgence Grows With Younger Crowd

Farm Resurgence Grows With Younger Crowd

AP (Aug. 22, 2014) New England farms are seeing a surge in younger farm hands as the 'buy local' food movement grows across the country. (Aug. 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Drug Used To Treat 'Ebola's Cousin' Shows Promise

Drug Used To Treat 'Ebola's Cousin' Shows Promise

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) An experimental drug used to treat Marburg virus in rhesus monkeys could give new insight into a similar treatment for Ebola. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Terrifying City-Dwelling Spiders Are Bigger And More Fertile

Terrifying City-Dwelling Spiders Are Bigger And More Fertile

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) According to a new study, spiders that live in cities are bigger, fatter and multiply faster. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins