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Directional sensitivity of echolocation in the horseshoe bat,Rhinolophus ferrumequinum

I. Directionality of sound emission

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The directionality of sound emission by a horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum) has been determined for the constant frequency component of its orientation sounds. The bat was fixed in the center of an acoustic perimeter and the SPL of the orientation sounds measured with a scanning microphone at different angles compared with the SPL measured by another microphone located in the direction perpendicular to the plane of the horseshoe-like structure of the nose-leaf. The maximum SPL was always found in this direction which also corresponds to the flight direction of a bat in horizontal flight. Above and lateral to this direction the SPL decreases steadily with -6 dB-points at 24 ‡ above and 23 ‡ lateral. Below the flight direction we found a prominent side lobe with a -6 dB-point at 64 ‡.

When the present data are combined with measurements of the behavioral directionality of hearing at the same frequency (Grinnell and Schnitzler, 1977), the directionality diagram of the entire echolocation system is very narrow and points in the flight direction. The prominent downward side lobe of emission does not conspicuously increase echolocation effectiveness in the direction of the ground, since hearing sensitivity is falling off so steeply in that direction. However, without this downward beam of emission, signals from below the bat would be that much less effective.

Interference with the structure of the nose-leaf by covering the upper part with vaseline or plugging the left nostril destroyed the smoothness of the normal sound field and demonstrated that this complex organ is a highly functional structure optimized in the course of evolution.

With differences in mood or attention, the emitted pulses varied by as much as 20 dB (80–100 dB). The emission directionality pattern also varied. In most cases, as orientation sounds increased in SPL, the acoustic beam became smaller.

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Supported by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, grant No. Schn 138/1-6, Stiftung Volkswagenwerk, grant No. 111 858, and the Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung

We thank W. Hollerbach and C. Nitsche for technical assistance.

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Schnitzler, H.U., Grinnell, A.D. Directional sensitivity of echolocation in the horseshoe bat,Rhinolophus ferrumequinum . J. Comp. Physiol. 116, 51–61 (1977).

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