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 reveals.
Scientists observed bats using an acoustic call to jam another’s echolocation, the process of bouncing sound waves off nearby objects to sense what is around them.
The new research 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. 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.
When a Mexican free-tailed bat closes in on an insect, its echolocation pings become more and more frequent until the sounds coalesce into a distinctive call known as a feeding buzz.
According to Corcoran’s recordings, a bat jammed another bat’s sonar only when it was emitting the feeding buzz, which supported his initial hypothesis.
Corcoran’s next step was to play back recordings of the jamming signal to see how it affected the behavior of Mexican free-tailed bats in the wild.
When he played the signal right as a bat was about to catch an insect, the bat was up to 85.9 percent less likely to catch its prey, therefore proving his finding.