Original Paper

Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 189, Issue 9, pp 693-702

First online:

Echo delay versus spectral cues for temporal hyperacuity in the big brown bat, Eptesicus fuscus

  • J. A. SimmonsAffiliated withDepartment of Neuroscience, Brown University Email author 
  • , M. J. FerragamoAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Gustavus Adolphus College
  • , M. I. SandersonAffiliated withDepartment of Neuroscience, Brown University

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Big brown bats can discriminate between echoes that alternate in delay (jitter) by as little as 10–15 ns and echoes that are stationary in delay. This delay hyperacuity seems so extreme that it has been rejected in favor of an explanation in terms of artifacts in echoes, most likely spectral in nature, that presumably are correlated with delay. Using different combinations of digital, analog, and cable delays, we dissociated the overall delay of jittering echoes from the size of the analog component of delay, which alone is presumed to determine the strength of the apparatus artifact. The bats' performance remains invariant with respect to the overall delay of the jittering echoes, not with respect to the amount of analog delay. This result is not consistent with the possible use of delay-related artifacts produced by the analog delay devices. Moreover, both electronic and acoustic measurements disclose no spectral cues or impedance-mismatch reflections in delayed signals, just time-delays. The absence of artifacts from the apparatus and the failure of overlap and interference from reverberation to account for the 10-ns result means that closing the gap between the level of temporal accuracy plausibly explained from physiology and the level observed in behavior may require a better understanding of the physiology.


Bats Delay hyperacuity Echo delay Echolocation Target ranging