Bats and echolocation – how does it work?

Bats and echolocation – how does it work?

Bats and echolocation – how does it work?

Echolocation is a fascinating process whereby animals are able to emit calls into their surrounding environment and listen for the returning echoes from objects around them. This process not only allows animals to navigate successfully in their environment but also allows successful the detection of prey.

Bats are one of a few mammals who use echolocation. They usually reside in environments of total darkness so it is not surprising that these animals have adapted to successful avoid obstacles in their flight path. As bats are nocturnal (they are usually active at night), their echolocation gives them a great advantage in foraging for food as there are more prey available (many inspects are also nocturnal), there is less competition for food and there is also fewer predators who prey on bats.

To use echolocation, bats have adapted to the processing of large amounts of information and rapid movement in response to this information. Researchers have been analysing the brains of bats to see if the processing of heavy information has resulted in a more efficient brain structure as a result of evolution.

To study the bats brain activity, Dr Wohlgemuth [1] set up microphones around the bat to record what the bat could hear from its prey from different angles.

The brain structure “superior colliculus” was the most active part of the brain during food capture and was responsible for making bats aware of the location of the bats prey in relation to themselves and also allows the processing of large quantities of information from the surrounding environment to allow rapid and accurate corrections in .  This brain structure is also present in the brains of humans and other mammals and has a similar functioning, however this structure in bats has adapted to the process of large amounts of auditory data  and has allowed the rapid and accurate bodily movements which allow bats to hunt for their prey and avoid collisions with objects in their environment.

So what causes the bat to respond to this information so quickly? Neurones which allow bats to process spacial and motor information were found to be located very close together. Bats have adapted their vision to enable them to catch flying prey in the darkness and avoid collision with objects in their habitat.




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