Echolocating bats rapidly adjust their mouth gape to control spatial acquisition when scanning a target

Ofri Eitan*, Mor Taub, Arjan Boonman, Amir Zviran, Vladimir Tourbabin, Anthony J. Weiss, Yossi Yovel*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: As well known to any photographer, controlling the “field of view” offers an extremely powerful mechanism by which to adjust target acquisition. Only a few natural sensory systems can actively control their field of view (e.g., dolphins, whales, and bats). Bats are known for their active sensing abilities and modify their echolocation signals by actively controlling their spectral and temporal characteristics. Less is known about bats’ ability to actively modify their bio-sonar field of view. Results: We show that Pipistrellus kuhlii bats rapidly narrow their sensory field of view (i.e., their bio-sonar beam) when scanning a target. On-target vertical sonar beams were twofold narrower than off-target beams. Continuous measurements of the mouth gape of free-flying bats revealed that they control their bio-sonar beam by a ~3.6 mm widening of their mouth gape: namely, bats open their mouth to narrow the beam and vice versa. Conclusions: Bats actively and rapidly control their echolocation vertical beam width by modifying their mouth gape. We hypothesize that narrowing their vertical beam narrows the zone of ensonification when estimating the elevation of a target. In other words, bats open their mouth to improve sensory localization.

Original languageEnglish
Article number282
JournalBMC Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022


FundersFunder number
Office of Naval ResearchN62909-16-1-2133


    • 3D Tracking
    • 3D acoustic simulation
    • Bats
    • CT scan
    • Echolocation
    • Mouth gape
    • Piston model
    • Sensory acquisition


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