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Desert Diary
Mammals/Bat Sonar


The night belongs to bats. No matter how dark, the sound of fluttering, leathery wings reveals the peerless hunters plying their trade, sweeping the sky of insects. But how can this be? How can these flying, furry creatures find their way around in the dark, let alone pick small morsels out of thin air? For many years, this was the mystery of mysteries regarding bats.

Over half a century ago, the secret was finally revealed--in the dark, bats "see" with their ears. Much as we use light waves to visualize our surroundings, bats use sound—so high in pitch that our poor, hearing-challenged ears cannot detect it. Radiating out from mouth or nose, the sound bounces from objects, and back to the bat's ears. So sophisticated is this sonar system that bats can determine distance, direction, and elevation of the object—and even whether its surface is hard or soft. Zeroing in on the echoes, a bat gathers its prey, the meals never seen.
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Listen to the Audio (mp3 format) as recorded by KTEP, Public Radio for the Southwest.


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.