Environmental Hazards, Nature

Adaptable Bats Can Deal with Noise Pollution


Bats flying in the dusk sky
Photo: Shutterstock

Noise pollution is hard to define for many people. We tend to think of noise as ephemeral; it’s something that happens and goes away. Maybe it’s annoying at the time, but it isn’t pollution. We don’t rely on sound the way some species do, however, and human-created noise can interfere with mating calls, hunting, and other essential functions in animals’ lives.

Take the fringe-lipped bat, for example. They mostly eat frogs, which they find by sound, but noise created by people can interfere with that, and make it harder to pinpoint where the frogs are. However, these bats can switch from listening to using echolocation.

Echolocation is something the bats do anyway—they send out high-pitched sounds that bounce back and tell them where things are. By switching between listening to the low-pitched mating calls of their prey and targeting that prey with echolocation, the bats are able to hunt effectively even with distractions. It’s kind of like conversing at a party: In a quiet room, you can just listen to somebody talk, but with ambient noise you have to look at them in order to pick them out instead of the crowd.

The researchers who discovered the fringe-lipped bat’s unique capabilities have made an important contribution to our understanding of how animals adapt to competing sounds. Not every sound a bat might hear is created by humans, and the sounds of other animals might make it hard to find their prey as well. But the ability to switch senses like this also makes animals like the fringe-lipped bat better able to adapt to live around humans.

Among other things, human settlements often bring lots of noise, and as humans have by this point affected pretty much every ecosystem in the world, most plants and animals have to adapt to live alongside us instead of being destroyed by our actions.


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