Bats Actively Use Leaves as Specular Reflectors to Detect Acoustically Camouflaged Prey

Inga Geipel*, Jan Steckel, Marco Tschapka, Dieter Vanderelst, Hans Ulrich Schnitzler, Elisabeth K.V. Kalko, Herbert Peremans, Ralph Simon

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


    Filtering relevant signals from noisy sensory input is a crucial challenge for animals [1, 2]. Many bats are acoustic specialists relying on sound to find prey. They discern salient acoustic signals from irrelevant background masking noise. It has long been considered a sensory impossibility for bats to use solely echolocation for the detection of silent and motionless prey resting directly on foliage due to the masking effects of background echoes [3, 4]. Some bats, however, do successfully perform this seemingly impossible task [5], raising the question-what underlying acoustic and behavioral mechanisms do bats use to solve this conundrum? To address this question, we used biomimetic sonar to record high-resolution measurements of echoes from insects resting on leaves. Based on our echo recordings, we predicted optimal approach angles from which masking echoes can best be avoided. In behavioral experiments, we put these predictions to test. We recorded the prey approach behavior of wild bats in a flight cage equipped with an ultrasonic microphone synchronized with two high-speed cameras for 3D flightpath reconstructions. Bats approached prey from our predicted optimal oblique angles, using the leaf as a specular reflector to uncover previously acoustically hidden prey. Our findings disclose key behavioral and acoustic mechanisms enabling the detection of prey echoes that background clutter would otherwise mask. This work adds to the fundamental understanding of how bat echolocation strategies can override acoustic camouflage by silent, motionless prey, thus providing new insights into the evolutionary arms race between predators and their prey.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2731-2736.e3
    Number of pages10
    JournalCurrent Biology
    Issue number16
    Early online date1 Aug 2019
    Publication statusPublished - 19 Aug 2019

    Bibliographical note

    Copyright © 2019 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


    • acoustic masking
    • active gleaning
    • bats
    • clutter echoes
    • echolocation
    • foraging strategies
    • Micronycteris microtis
    • Phyllostomidae
    • prey approach
    • specular effect


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