What is Echolocation and How Does it Work?

Echolocation is a special skill, almost like a super power, that certain animals have to help them find objects or food in the dark or at long distances.  Do you know what animals use it or how it works?

echolocation, brown bat

A Little Brown Bat uses echolocation.

What Animals Use Echolocation?

Small bats that hunt for insects while flying use echolocation.  A few other animals that also use it include whales, dolphins, shrews, and some small birds.

In fact, not all bats use the typical kind of echolocation where they emit sound waves from their mouths.  There are two main kinds of bats – the large fruit bats, and the smaller bats.  Most bats, the smaller version, use their mouths and ears for echolocation.  Scientists used to think that the larger fruit bats did not use echolocation because they did not use their mouths.  Recently, researchers discovered that they are making the sounds with their wings and receiving the sounds with their ears.  This means that all bats do in fact use echolocation.

Are Animals That Use Echolocation Blind?

No.  Whales, dolphins, and bats all have eyesight.  They simply use echolocation because it helps them to ‘see’ things that they can not see with their eyesight.  The reason for this could be because the object is too far away or because it is dark.  The ability to use echolocation simply gives these animals an advantage when they are moving around and hunting their food – in other words it helps them find  food that they couldn’t find with just their eyesight.

echolocation, batHow Does Echolocation Work?

These animals make and send out sound waves.  The sound waves are very high frequency, which means that they can not be heard by people.  Those sound waves are sent out by the animal until they hit something and then they bounce off the object and travel back to the animal.  The animal has specially designed ears or other parts that allow them to receive the sound waves when they come back.  Then, based on the echo that comes back, the animal can figure out how far away and what shape the object is.