Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 10, Issue 4, pp 271-275

First online:

Interindividual use of echolocation calls: Eavesdropping by bats

  • Robert M. R. BarclayAffiliated withBiology Department, Carleton University

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The use of other individual's echolocation calls by little brown bats, Myotis lucifugus, was tested by observing the response of free-flying bats to presentations of recorded echolocation calls and artificial sounds. Bats responded by approaching conspecific calls while searching for food, night roosts, nursery colonies and mating/hibernation sites. Response was low or non-existant to other sounds. While searching for prey, M. lucifugus also responded to the echolocation calls of Eptesicus fuscus, a sympatric species with overlapping diet but distinctly different echolocation calls. Subadults were especially responsive to conspecific calls.

All four situations in which the bats responded involve patchily distributed resources at which bats accumulate. Concentrations of echolocation calls thus likely serve as cues regarding the location of resources. Individuals approaching feeding groups, for example, could increase prey detection range by up to 50 times over individuals relying solely on their own echolocation.

Although the costs associated with eavesdropping may be negligible for M. lucifugus, for other species, particularly territorial ones, being conspicuous may be a disadvantage and the possibility of being over-heard by other bats may have been one factor involved in the evolution of echolocation call design.