Echolocating bats emit ultrasonic calls through their mouth or their nostrils and receive echoes from objects with both their ears. Information conveyed in the echoes is the basis for their three-dimensional acoustic perception of the surroundings. The direction of an object is encoded in binaural echo differences, i.e. on the one hand in the different arrival times of its echo at the two ears, and on the other hand in spectral differences through direction-dependent frequency filtering of head and pinnae. Insufficient attention has been paid, however, to the fact that three-dimensional objects produce structured spatial echo fields, and that the position of the ear in this field determines the echo it receives. We were interested to determine whether the two ears, in addition to direction-specific echo differences, receive object-specific echo disparities that might be useful for the bat. Our measurements with an artificial bat head, which consisted of two microphones and a small ultrasound loudspeaker arranged to resemble a bat's ears and mouth, revealed that echoes at the two ears differed largely depending on the shape and orientation of the echo-giving object. Binaural echo disparities of a bat-pollinated flower did indeed carry information about the orientation and, to a lesser extent, the shape of the flower. During flower approach such object-specific binaural echo disparities even exceed the binaural differences encoding direction of echo incidence, because the echo from the flower in front undergoes the same directional filtering by the two symmetrical ears. Nectar-feeding bats could use these object-specific binaural echo disparities not only to determine the object's orientation relative to the approaching bat, facilitating flight planning, but also to improve object recognition through spatial reconstruction of details of the object creating the echo. Our results suggest that the evaluation of binaural echo disparity has a greater importance for these tasks than has previously been assumed.
|Translated title of the contribution||'Binaural echo disparity' as a potential indicator of object orientation and cue for object recognition in echolocating nectar-feeding bats|
|Pages (from-to)||3457 - 3468|
|Number of pages||12|
|Journal||Journal of Experimental Biology|
|Publication status||Published - Sep 2006|