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‘No cost of echolocation for flying bats’ revisited


Echolocation is energetically costly for resting bats, but previous experiments suggested echolocation to come at no costs for flying bats. Yet, previous studies did not investigate the relationship between echolocation, flight speed, aerial manoeuvres and metabolism. We re-evaluated the ‘no-cost’ hypothesis, by quantifying the echolocation pulse rate, the number of aerial manoeuvres (landings and U-turns), and the costs of transport in the 5-g insectivorous bat Rhogeessa io (Vespertilionidae). On average, bats (n = 15) travelled at 1.76 ± 0.36 m s−1 and performed 11.2 ± 6.1 U-turns and 2.8 ± 2.9 ground landings when flying in an octagonal flight cage. Bats made more U-turns with decreasing wing loading (body weight divided by wing area). At flight, bats emitted 19.7 ± 2.7 echolocation pulses s−1 (range 15.3–25.8 pulses s−1), and metabolic rate averaged 2.84 ± 0.95 ml CO2 min−1, which was more than 16 times higher than at rest. Bats did not echolocate while not engaged in flight. Costs of transport were not related to the rate of echolocation pulse emission or the number of U-turns, but increased with increasing number of landings; probably as a consequence of slower travel speed when staying briefly on ground. Metabolic power of flight was lower than predicted for R. io under the assumption that energetic costs of echolocation call production is additive to the aerodynamic costs of flight. Results of our experiment are consistent with the notion that echolocation does not add large energetic costs to the aerodynamic power requirements of flight in bats.

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Fig. 6



13C excess enrichment (in atom %)


Aspect ratio

g :

Gravitational force (9.81 m s−2)

m b :

Body mass (kg)

k c :

Fractional turnover (min−1)

N c :

Body bicarbonate pool (mmol)



P F :

Metabolic power of flight (W)


Standard deviation

t :

Time (min)

v :

Flight speed (m s−1)

\( \dot{V}_{{co_{2} }} \) :

Rate of CO2 production (ml min−1)


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We thank Ivailo Borrisov, Silke Luise Voigt-Heucke and Karin Schneeberger for help during fieldwork, Stefanie Zimmer for help in the acoustical analysis, and the Costa Rican authorities and the Organisation for Tropical Studies for research permission.

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Correspondence to Christian C. Voigt.

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Communicated by G. Heldmaier.

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Voigt, C.C., Lewanzik, D. ‘No cost of echolocation for flying bats’ revisited. J Comp Physiol B 182, 831–840 (2012).

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  • Chiroptera
  • Energetics
  • Flight costs
  • Echolocation