Bats adjust their mouth gape to zoom their biosonar field of view

Pavel Kounitsky, Jens Rydell, Eran Amichai, Arjan Boonman, Ofri Eitan, Anthony J. Weiss, Yossi Yovel*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Active sensing, where sensory acquisition is actively modulated, is an inherent component of almost all sensory systems. Echolocating bats are a prime example of active sensing. They can rapidly adjust many of their biosonar parameters to optimize sensory acquisition. They dynamically adjust pulse design, pulse duration, and pulse rate within dozens of milliseconds according to the sensory information that is required for the task that they are performing. The least studied and least understood degree of freedom in echolocation is emission beamforming - the ability to change the shape of the sonar sound beam in a functional way. Such an ability could have a great impact on the bat's control over its sensory perception. On the one hand, the bat could direct more energy into a narrow sector to zoom its biosonar field of view, and on the other hand, it could widen the beam to increase the space that it senses. We show that freely behaving bats constantly control their biosonar field of view in natural situations by rapidly adjusting their emitter aperture - the mouth gape. The bats dramatically narrowed the beam when entering a confined space, and they dramatically widened it within dozens of milliseconds when flying toward open space. Hence, mouth-emitting bats dynamically adjust their mouth gape to optimize the area that they sense with their echolocation system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6724-6729
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number21
StatePublished - 26 May 2015


  • Active sensing
  • Bats
  • Beamforming
  • Echolocation
  • Sensory perception


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