Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 35, Issue 5, pp 327–345

Fishing and echolocation behavior of the greater bulldog bat, Noctilio leporinus, in the field


  • Hans-Ulrich Schnitzler
    • Animal PhysiologyUniversity of Tübingen
  • Elisabeth K. V. Kalko
    • Animal PhysiologyUniversity of Tübingen
  • Ingrid Kaipf
    • Animal PhysiologyUniversity of Tübingen
  • Alan D. Grinnell
    • Department of Physiology and the Ahmanson Laboratory of Neurobiology UCLASchool of Medicine

DOI: 10.1007/BF00184422

Cite this article as:
Schnitzler, H., Kalko, E.K.V., Kaipf, I. et al. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (1994) 35: 327. doi:10.1007/BF00184422


When hunting for fish Noctilio leporinus uses several strategies. In high search flight it flies within 20–50 cm of the water surface and emits groups of two to four echolocation signals, always containing at least one pure constant frequency (CF) pulse and one mixed CF-FM pulse consisting of a CF component which is followed by a frequency-modulated (FM) component. The pure CF signals are the longest, with an average duration of 13.3 ms and a maximum of 17 ms. The CF component of the CF-FM signals averages 8.9 ms, the FM sweeps 3.9 ms. The CF components have frequencies of 52.8–56.2 kHz and the FM components have an average bandwidth of 25.9 kHz. A bat in high search flight reacts to jumping fish with “pointed dips” at the spot where a fish has broken the surface. As it descends to the water surface the bat shows the typical approach pattern of all bats with decreasing pulse duration and pulse interval. A jumping fish reveals itself by a typical pattern of temporary echo glints, reflected back to the bat from its body and from the water disturbance. In low search flight N. leporinus drops to a height of only 4–10 cm, with body parallel to the water, legs extended straight back and turned slightly downward, and feet cocked somewhat above the line of the legs and poised within 2–4 cm of the water surface. In this situation N. leporinus emits long series of short CF-FM pulses with an average duration of 5.6 ms (CF 3.1 and FM 2.6) and an average pulse interval of 20 ms, indicating that it is looking for targets within a short range. N. leporinus also makes pointed dips during low search flight by rapidly snapping the feet into the water at the spot where it has localized a jumping fish or disturbance. In the random rake mode, N. leporinus drops to the water surface, lowers its feet and drags its claws through the water in relatively straight lines for up to 10m. The echolocation behavior is similar to that of high search flight. This indicates that in this hunting mode N. leporinus is not pursuing specific targets, and that raking is a random or statistical search for surface fishes. When raking, the bat uses two strategies. In directed random rake it rakes through patches of water where fish jumping activity is high. Our interpretation is that the bat detects this activity by echolocation but prefers not to concentrate on a single jumping fish. In the absence of jumping fish, after flying for several minutes without any dips, N. leporinus starts to make very long rakes in areas where it has hunted successfully before (memory-directed random rake). Hunting bats caught a fish approximately once in every 50–200 passes through the hunting area.

Key words

BatsFishingEcholocationHunting behavior

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1994