Click-based echolocation in bats: Not so primitive after all

Yossi Yovel, Maya Geva-Sagiv, Nachum Ulanovsky

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Echolocating bats of the genus Rousettus produce click sonar signals, using their tongue (lingual echolocation). These signals are often considered rudimentary and are believed to enable only crude performance. However, the main argument supporting this belief, namely the click's reported long duration, was recently shown to be an artifact. In fact, the sonar clicks of Rousettus bats are extremely short, ~50-100 μs, similar to dolphin vocalizations. Here, we present a comparison between the sonar systems of the 'model species' of laryngeal echolocation, the big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus), and that of lingual echolocation, the Egyptian fruit bat (Rousettus aegyptiacus). We show experimentally that in tasks, such as accurate landing or detection of medium-sized objects, click-based echolocation enables performance similar to laryngeal echolocators. Further, we describe a sophisticated behavioral strategy for biosonar beam steering in clicking bats. Finally, theoretical analyses of the signal design-focusing on their autocorrelations and wideband ambiguity functions-predict that in some aspects, such as target ranging and Doppler-tolerance, click-based echolocation might outperform laryngeal echolocation. Therefore, we suggest that click-based echolocation in bats should be regarded as a viable echolocation strategy, which is in fact similar to the biosonar used by most echolocating animals, including whales and dolphins.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)515-530
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Comparative Physiology A: Neuroethology, Sensory, Neural, and Behavioral Physiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2011


  • Active sensing
  • Big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus)
  • Biosonar
  • Egyptian fruit bat (Rousettus aegyptiacus)
  • Signal design

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Click-based echolocation in bats: Not so primitive after all'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this