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How Bats Predict the Future

Written By: Osayenmwen Omozusi

There are 1100 species of bats worldwide, with 40 species in the United States alone. Though small in physical size, bats have a large footprint, making up one-quarter of the world’s mammals (“Amazing Facts”, 2019). Bats can find their prey in total darkness. They can do this through echolocation, meaning they can detect where something is through reflected sound. It was once thought that bats only detect where their prey is; however, new studies show how the bat can not only find but also predict where the prey will go.

Bats calculate where their prey is headed by creating instantaneous predictive models of target motion from echoes. The models are so robust that bats can continue to track prey even when it temporarily vanishes behind echo-blocking obstacles like trees (“Johns Hopkins”, 2020). They use time delays between each echolocation call and the resulting echoes to determine how far away prey is, They also tilt their heads to detect the echoes’ fluctuating intensity to determine where the target is in the horizontal plane. Bats combine the echo information about the object’s distance and direction to successfully track their prey (“Johns Hopkins,” 2020).

Salles and the rest of the research team thought that the bats must somehow use this information to predict where their prey is headed. They tested their theory in the lab by designing an experiment that mirrored how bats hunt in the wild. They taught bats to stay on a perch and track insects. The team then recorded the bat’s echolocation calls and head movements as they changed where the insects moved and how quickly they could detect it. Additionally, they added obstacles that interrupted the echoes as another factor (“How Bats Use”, 2020). Diebold, a co-author and member of the project, stated, “We devised mathematical models to test the data, and we came up with different hypotheses of what the bats could be doing” (Salles et al., 2020).

The study determined that bats can predict the future because ithe bats expected where the insects would be and their head movements never delayed behind the target. If the bat kept its head in a fixed position, which sometimes reflected where the insect ended up, that would eliminate the prediction theory (Salles et al., 2020). This did not occur in the study. Salles’ study removed the notion that bats can not predict an insect’s future position, a conclusion from a 1980s study before high-speed videos were widely available.

Not only is the information useful for our understanding of bats, but we can also use this information and apply it to humans. For example, we can learn more about how people with visual impairment use clicks and cane taps to help them navigate while avoiding obstacles. The work improves the understanding of auditory-guided behaviors in animals and humans. There is much information to utilize for further projects to enhance the way humans can live in the future.


Works cited:

Amazing Facts About Bats. (2019, August 13). Retrieved December 21, 2020, from

How Bats Use Echolocation To “Predict the Future” of Their Prey. (2020, November 03). Retrieved December 21, 2020, from

Johns Hopkins University. (2020, November 2). Bats can predict the future, researchers discover. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 21, 2020 from

Salles, A., Diebold, C. A., & Moss, C. F. (2020, November 17). Echolocating bats accumulate information from acoustic snapshots to predict auditory object motion. Retrieved December 21, 2020, from

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