Food Fight


Published in the May 2015 issue of National Geographic magazine

Warships use sonar to detect targets and jamming technology to thwart enemy sonar. Mexican free-tailed bats can do both those things with their vocal cords.

Bats use echolocation, bouncing sound waves off an object, to navigate and draw a bead on prey. Aaron Corcoran and William Conner, scientists at Wake Forest University, recently discovered that Mexican free-tailed bats also use these signals to interfere with one another’s hunts.

When one of the bats is homing in on an insect, it increases the rate of its signals to a rapid “feeding buzz.” If a second, nearby bat emits a jamming signal, that may confuse the reading Bat 1 gets on the insect, giving Bat 2 an opening to steal it. Not to be outdone, Bat 1 may send its own jamming signal, starting a back-and-forth battle. Corcoran hopes to learn whether the behavior is unique to Mexican free-tailed bats, which—living in colonies of a million plus—must compete for meals.

—Lindsay N. Smith

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