Food Fight

National Geographic Magazine May 2015


Warships use sonar to detect targets and jaming technology to thwart enemy sonar.  Mexican free-tailed bats can do both those things with their vocal cords.

Bats use echolocation, bouncing sound waves off an object, to navigate and draw a bead on brey.  Scientists recently discovered that Mexican free-tailed bats also use these signals to interfere with one another’s hunts.

When one of the bats is homing in on an insect, it increases the rate of its signals to a rapid “feeding buzz.”  If a second, nearby bat emits a jamming signal, that may confuse the reading Bat 1 gets in the insect, giving Bat 2 an opening to steal it.  Not to be outdone.  Bat 1 may sen its own jamming signal, starting a back-and-forth battle.

Straw-colored Fruit Bat (Eidolon helvum) swarm, Kasanka National Park, Zambia

Scientists hope to learn whether the behaviour is unique to Mexican free-taile bats, which – living in colonies of a million plus – must compete for meals.



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