Biosonar discrimination of fine surface textures by echolocating free-tailed bats Academic Article uri icon


  • Echolocating bats are able to discriminate between different surface textures based on the spectral properties of returning echoes. This capability is likely to be important for recognizing prey and for finding suitably perching sites along smooth cave walls. Previous studies showed that bats may exploit echo spectral interference patterns in returning echoes to classify surface textures, but a systematic assessment of the limits of their discrimination performance is lacking and may provide important clues about the neural mechanisms by which bats reconstruct target features based on echo acoustic cues. We trained three Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) on a Y-maze to discriminate between the surfaces of 10 different sheets of aluminum-oxide abrasive sandpapers differing in standardized grit sizes ranging from 40 grit (coarse, 425 m mean particle diameter) to 240 grit (fine, 54 m mean particle diameter). Bats were rewarded for choosing the coarsest of two choices. All three bats easily discriminated all abrasive surfaces from a smooth plexiglass control and between all sandpaper comparisons except the two with the smallest absolute difference in mean particle sizes, the 150 vs. 180 grit (92 vs. 82 m) and the 220 vs. 240 grit (68 vs. 54 m) surfaces. These results indicate that echolocating free-tailed bats can use slight variations in the echo spectral envelope to remotely classify very fine surface textures with an acuity of at least 23 m, which rivals direct tactile discrimination performance of the human hand.

published proceedings


altmetric score

  • 2.7

author list (cited authors)

  • Smotherman, M., Croft, T., & Macias, S.

citation count

  • 1

complete list of authors

  • Smotherman, Michael SS||Croft, Thomas||Macias, Silvio

publication date

  • January 2022