In the race for food, Mexican free-tailed bats try to block each others’ ability to trace and catch prey, according to a new study, which claims the discovery is the first of its kind.
Scientists found that hungry Mexican free-tailed bats, or Tadarida brasiliensis, use an acoustic call to jam the sonar signals of their competitors to gain the upper hand while hunting for food at night. The researchers said in the study, published in the journal Science on Thursday, that these flying mammals emit the unique jamming call when another bat of the same species is also searching for food nearby. The bats continue to make the call until one of them gives up, the study said.
“This is the first study to show that bats actively jam the echolocation of other bats, and it increases the number of known functions of bat sounds to three: echolocation, communication, and acoustic interference,” Aaron Corcoran, a post doctoral researcher at the University of Maryland, said in a statement.
As part of the study, the researchers used highly-sensitive cameras and a specialized set of ultrasonic microphones to reconstruct the flight paths of the bats from their emitted sounds. According to researchers, the bats almost always missed their prey when another bat was making the call to jam their sonar signals.
The bats were 86 percent more likely to miss a moth when they heard the jamming signal right when they were about to catch the prey, Live Science reported, citing William Conner, a biologist at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and the study’s lead author, who said that the sonar interference strategy has only been observed in Mexican free-tailed bats.
“It isn’t known if other bat species – or other echolocating animals like dolphins – are employing the same tactic,” Conner said. “This research changes our understanding of the possible ways animals compete with each other for food, which is one of the most basic biological needs.”