Bats predict the future by building trajectories for targets

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have found that bats can figure out where their prey is headed. They can build models for predicting target movement on the fly based on echoes.

Although predicting the trajectory of an object using vision has been extensively studied, the recently published study was the first to investigate similar hearing processes.

The bat uses the delay time between each echolocation call and the figurative echo to determine how far away the prey is. Animals tilt their heads deliberately to pick up on the varying intensity of the echo. This is how they determine where their victim is in the horizontal plane. Bats must collect distance and directional echo information to an object in order to successfully track its location.

The researchers suggested that all this information is needed by bats to predict where the victim will move next. To test their theory, the team recreated the hunting conditions of bats and studied their movements during the process.

We hypothesized that bats use both information about the speed obtained from a set of echo signals and additionally regulate their movements. When we tested this model with our data, we saw that it fits very well.

Angeles Salles, Research Fellow and Study Author

The study expands prior knowledge about the response of humans and animals to sound cues, including in those with vision problems and more hearing.