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Hunting Bats

September 16, 2016

Noise caused by humans is invading natural ecosystems, but some animals have multiple sensory systems to deal with it.


Tungara frog Engystomops pustulosus calling Brian Gratwicke CC BY 2.0 via flickr La Chorrera District Panama 700

In noisy environments, hungry fringe-lipped bats use sonar to sense the movement made by Túngara frogs as they inflate large vocal sacs. (Brian Gratwicke/CC BY 2.0, via flickr)


Hungry bats and faux frogs. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Tropical fringe-lipped bats hunt by listening for the calls of Túngara frogs:

(call of Túngara frogs)

But sometimes those calls are drowned out by human noise, like the highway:

(Túngara frog with traffic noise in background)

To find out how the bats deal with the noise, Vrije University field biologist Wouter Halfwerk built a robotic frog.

WOUTER HALFWERK  (VU University Amsterdam):

It makes sound when we want and inflates a big vocal sac.


Halfwerk and his colleagues report in Science magazine that in noisy environments, bats used sonar in addition to hearing when hunting for faux frogs. But only when the robots inflated their vocal sacs, so the bats could detect the movement and attack fast. He thinks many animals in naturally noisy places are well-prepared to use multiple sensory systems in human-dominated landcaspes. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.  

Story by Susanne Bard