Like a football player running interference, a Mexican free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis) can block a competitor’s ability to get a meal, a new study says for the first time.
Scientists observed bats using an acoustic call to jam another’s echolocation—the process of bouncing sound waves off nearby objects to sense what’s around them.
Many bats echolocate to zero in on prey, such as insects—and without it, hunting is nearly impossible.
The new research, published November 6 in Science, reveals that the Mexican free-tailed bat makes the interference call when another bat of the same species is closing in on dinner.
Aaron Corcoran, a biology postdoctoral student at the University of Maryland, discovered this behavior by accident.
He was studying how the Grote’s tiger moth (Bertholdia trigona) jams the sonar of the big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus) on the Arizona-New Mexico border when he noticed Mexican free-tailed bats flying high above, making their own calls.
As he reviewed the acoustic data back in the lab, Corcoran noticed that the call made by Mexican free-tailed bats was eerily similar to the series of ultra-fast clicking sounds the tiger moth used to block the big brown bats’ sonar—and thus avoid becoming dinner.
He came up with the hypothesis that the Mexican free-tailed bats were trying to block each other’s hunting calls.
But, he said, “I had jamming signals on the brain, and so I needed to convince myself that this was true and I wasn’t just imagining the similarity.”