Bats eavesdrop on their prey

Like Tom and Jerry’s endless shenanigans, prey go to any lengths to avoid being eaten while predators continue to evolve their cunning ways to outsmart them.

Bats are no exception, adapting their hunting strategies to a diverse array of environments ranging from open spaces to forest floors and deserts, and with minimal effort.

“Bats are an exciting group to study,” says Rachel Page, author of a review on the topic, “because they have evolved so many different hunting strategies.”

It’s well-known that high flying bats use echolocation – bouncing ultrasonic or clicking sounds off objects – to navigate and find food. 

These bats have developed loud calls, while those who are restricted to enclosed spaces have larger ears to listen for prey and emit softer sounds.

As well as relying on this private information, bats use social cues, eavesdropping on their prey and on other bats for clues.

When male túngara frogs call for a mate, for instance, fringe-lipped bats (Trachops cirrhosus) know it’s dinner time. Other bat species exploit Katydids and moths who are serenading potential partners.

Bats also watch their friends hunt, piggybacking on them to find prey locales, and learn from other bat species as well.

But Page says the different hunting strategies that have evolved are puzzling. 

“If so many bat species have low-frequency hearing and can thus detect prey mating signals, and these mating signals are excellent beacons of high-density prey patches, why aren’t more bat species taking advantage of these loud, conspicuous signals?”

This and other elusive questions remain to be answered.

“Despite the fact that bats are an excellent group to learn about the sensory adaptations of predators,” says Page, “the vast majority of bats are poorly studied.”

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