Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 66, Issue 11, pp 1493–1502 | Cite as

Echolocation beam shape in emballonurid bats, Saccopteryx bilineata and Cormura brevirostris

  • Lasse JakobsenEmail author
  • Elisabeth K. V. Kalko
  • Annemarie Surlykke
Original Paper


The shape of the sonar beam plays a crucial role in how echolocating bats perceive their surroundings. Signal design may thus be adapted to optimize beam shape to a given context. Studies suggest that this is indeed true for vespertilionid bats, but little is known from the remaining 16 families of echolocating bats. We investigated the echolocation beam shape of two species of emballonurid bats, Cormura brevirostris and Saccopteryx bilineata, while they navigated a large outdoor flight cage on Barro Colorado Island, Panama. C. brevirostris emitted more directional signals than did S. bilineata. The difference in directionality was due to a markedly different energy distribution in the calls. C. brevirostris emitted two call types, a multiharmonic shallowly frequency-modulated call and a multiharmonic sweep, both with most energy in the fifth harmonic around 68 kHz. S. bilineata emitted only one call type, multiharmonic shallowly frequency-modulated calls with most energy in the second harmonic (~46 kHz). When comparing same harmonic number, the directionality of the calls of the two bat species was nearly identical. However, the difference in energy distribution in the calls made the signals emitted by C. brevirostris more directional overall than those emitted by S. bilineata. We hypothesize that the upward shift in frequency exhibited by C. brevirostris serves to increase directionality, in order to generate a less cluttered auditory scene. The study indicates that emballonurid bats are forced to adjust their relative harmonic energy instead of adjusting the fundamental frequency, as the vespertilionids do, presumably due to a less flexible sound production.


Bat Emballonuridae Echolocation Beam shape Directionality 



We thank Ali Shekarchi for help with development of the energy compensation method, John Ratcliffe, Frants Havmand Jensen, Maria Wilson, Brock Fenton, and an anonymous reviewer for valuable comments on the manuscript. The study was funded by the Carlsberg foundation (to L.J.), The Danish Council for Natural Sciences (FNU to A.M.S.), and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) and the German Science Foundation (DFG; to E.K.V.K.).


The research adhered to the legal requirements of Panamá in which the work was carried out and all institutional guidelines as well as the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour/Animal Behaviour Society Guidelines for the Use of Animals in Research (published on the Animal Behaviour website).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lasse Jakobsen
    • 1
    Email author
  • Elisabeth K. V. Kalko
    • 2
    • 3
  • Annemarie Surlykke
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of BiologyUniversity of Southern DenmarkOdenseDenmark
  2. 2.Institute of Experimental EcologyUniversity of UlmUlmGermany
  3. 3.Smithsonian Tropical Research InstitutePanama CityRepublic of Panama

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