The acoustic basis for target discrimination by FM echolocating bats

J Acoust Soc Am. 1989 Oct;86(4):1333-50. doi: 10.1121/1.398694.


Past experiments show that echolocating bats of the species Myotis lucifugus and Eptesicus fuscus can discriminate among airborne sonar targets presented in the context of pursuit maneuvers for the interception of prey. These bats distinguish between edible mealworms and inedible spheres of various sizes. Myotis can distinguish between disks and mealworms similar enough in size that the bat's performance requires the ability to perceive the acoustic equivalent of target shape. Previously observed small differences in the spectrum of echoes from mealworms and disks appear insufficient to distinguish these targets at the performance levels achieved by bats. We measured the acoustic properties of the targets by broadcasting ultrasonic impulses at mealworms, spheres, and disks and recording their echoes, displaying the results in terms of impulse echo waveforms and the frequency response of targets derived from the target transfer function. The echoes from disks and mealworms at various orientations convey the range-axis profile of the target (number and spacing of reflecting points or glints distributed at different ranges) in terms of the impulse structure of their waveforms and in terms of the locations and spacing of notches or nulls in their spectra. For targets that bats can discriminate and that reflect echoes which do not clearly differ in overall amplitude, the targets appear distinguishable from the acoustic representation of their range profile, which is a feature of targets that bats can perceive with great acuity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chiroptera / physiology*
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology*
  • Echolocation / physiology*
  • Orientation