Echolocation while drinking: Pulse-timing strategies by high- and low-frequency FM bats.

Academic Article


  • During nightly foraging activity, echolocating bats drink by flying low over the water surface and dipping the lower jaw while avoiding further bodily contact with the water. This task poses different sensorimotor challenges than flying in the open to forage for insects. Of interest is how bats adjust the timing of their echolocation pulses to accommodate the surrounding scene, from the progressively nearer water surface itself to objects at longer distances. Drinking behavior has been described in only a few of the roughly 1,000 echolocating bat species, and in none of the 110 species in the Indian subcontinent. Here, we describe how bats emitting frequency-modulated (FM) echolocation pulses behaved while drinking from a swimming pool in urban northeast India. At least two different bat species were present, using 1st-harmonic frequencies sweeping down to about 35 Hz ("low frequency") and down to about 50 kHz ("high frequency"), separable at a 40 kHz boundary. Over entire drinking maneuvers, intervals between broadcast pulses accommodate both the proximate task of registering the water surface while drinking and registering echoes from the farther reaches of the scene. During approach to the water, both low and high frequency bats emit longer, more stable interpulse intervals that matched the time interval covering echo arrival-times out to the frequency-dependent maximum operating range. High frequency bats use shorter interpulse intervals than low frequency bats, consistent with the shorter operating range at higher frequencies. Bats then accelerate their pulse rate to guide the dive down to drinking, with low frequency bats continuing to decrease pulse intervals and high frequency bats maintaining a more steady interval during the drinking buzz. The circumstance that both groups were engaged in the same task made this a natural experiment on the behavior during approach.
  • Authors

  • Kloepper, Laura
  • Simmons, Andrea Megela
  • Simmons, James A
  • Publication Date

  • 2019
  • Published In

  • PLoS ONE  Journal
  • Keywords

  • Animals
  • Chiroptera
  • Drinking
  • Echolocation
  • Pitch Discrimination
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Start Page

  • e0226114
  • Volume

  • 14
  • Issue

  • 12