We have been discussing these ominous winged animals in the past few articles. We have talked about the need for the bat in our environment. We discussed their masterfully designed feet for hanging, their incredibly flexible, sensitive, and special wings, as well as their unique reproductive system. While all of these are great, none of them hold a candle to the next quality, echolocation.
The Bat’s Echolocation. While some bats have great eyesight, many do not. Several bats use echolocation to travel and hunt. What is echolocation? It is essentially “seeing” with sound, kind of like submarines. In order to “see” their surroundings, the bat will make a sound and listen to how it changes and how long it takes to return. So, let’s take a look at a few areas of echolocation.
First of all, the bat’s sounds. The noises bats make are incredibly loud, about 130 decibels (BatWorlds.com). This is equivalent to the sounds made by jet engines and machine guns. Thankfully, these sounds are so high pitched that humans cannot hear them. The problem is, bats can hear them and it is even too loud for themselves. To keep from damaging its own ears, it contracts a muscle in its middle ear and essentially “plugs” its own ears. It will do this when it makes the noise and then relax the muscle to hear the echo and “see” where it is going. Sometimes the bat will give off a continuous noise (Also called High Duty Cycle Echolocation). Obviously this would be a real danger to its ears. However, it will make noises out of its own hearing range so that it doesn’t go deaf. The amazing part is that when the noise bounces off another object, it will bring the frequency of the sound into the bats hearing range and lower the volume to a safe level. The bat is perfectly equipped to use echolocation without going deaf.
Second, the bat’s hearing. As you might imagine, their hearing is unbelievably sensitive. For example, bats that eat frogs are able to tell which frogs are poisonous by listening to the subtle differences in their mating calls. The African heart-nosed bat’s ears are so sensitive that it can hear the footsteps of a beetle walking on the sand. Not only can bats hear well, but they are specially designed to focus in on their own noises. Even if there are thousands of bats around, a bat can separate its own calls from all the others. Obviously hearing the loud calls of other bats could damage its ears as well. However, the bats brain is designed in such a way that it will cut out background noises so it can focus in on its own specific noises and not go deaf at the same time (Neuroethology: Echolocation in the Bat).
Thirdly, the bat’s brain. It is very difficult for us to fully understand this process. It is infinitely more complex than we have discussed. Nearly every little detail of the bat is fine tuned for echolocation. Even if it could make and hear the sounds, if its brain couldn’t keep up it would fail miserably. However, the bat can make, listen, and process all of the information it gathers with 99% accuracy (Neuroethology: Echolocation in the Bat). It doesn’t do this slowly either. With one call, the bat’s brain is able to interpret huge amounts of information in just millionths of a second. In other words, with one noise, it will “see” the small insect directly in front of it as well as all the other trees, leaves, and other bats in the background. To give an example of just how fine tuned and sensitive a bats echolocation is, some fishing bats are able to detect a minnow’s fin, as fine as a human hair, sticking only two millimeters out of the water (AnswersInGenesis.org).
So, not only do bats make loud sounds, but they have special features to keep from going deaf. They are so sensitive that they can hear very quite noises, subtle changes, as well as distinguish their own noises and process all of this information with unbelievable speed and accuracy. Its entire brain, nervous system, body, and existence is fine tuned to use echolocation flawlessly. I can’t exaggerate how exquisite this entire process really is.
We have talked about many different features of the bat. Here is basically how these awesome features work together. A bat will be hanging upside down. It will have to flex to let go of the surface it’s on and will begin flying without getting dizzy or light headed at all. Using the tiny hairs on its wings, it will change the wing’s shape depending on the air and wind qualities to fly more efficiently. It will use echolocation to perfectly navigate its way around to look for food without going deaf or being hindered by the other bats that might be making noises as well. Once it finds a bug it will continue to use echolocation to close in on it. When it gets to the bug it will eat it right out of the air, or more commonly, use the same very sensitive hairs on its wings to “feel” where the bug is, trap it, bring it to its mouth, and eat it. Some of these bugs are in the air and some on the ground. And remember, it is able to do this so quickly and efficiently that many bats will eat hundreds, or even thousands, of bugs in a matter of hours. And the fact that they can do this keeps our insect population at safe levels.
The bat’s abilities are mind blowing. How could all of these abilities possibly have evolved? If we take just one small feature away from the bat, the entire process crumbles and the bat is useless. The bat is complex and perfectly designed from head to toe, literally.
By looking at the bat and the many other awesome animals God has made, surely we can join in with the apostle Paul and say, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways…For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:33, 36).