Science and TechAnimals and Insects


Bats Can Learn To Put Up With Us Noisy Humans

Some bats can learn to adapt their hunting techniques so they find food even in noisy environments.
Posted at 10:02 AM, Sep 15, 2016

Humans and our machines are really, really loud.

And this noise pollution has measurable impacts on the animals that live nearby. It's harder to talk to your neighbors, or find a mate — or hear that rattlesnake coming — if there's a busy highway nearby.

SEE MORE: You Don't Need A Fancy Name To See The Effects Humans Have On Earth

But of all the animals that live and die by their ears, bats are particularly strong at tuning out our noise.

Biologists set up sound experiments with fringe-lipped bats, which hunt for frogs by listening for the sound they make and by pinging them using ultrasonic echolocation. 

If it's too loud to hear the calls of the frogs, no problem: The bats just echolocate more.

This is the latest research to show bats will adapt their behaviors to compensate for a noisy environment. Earlier studies showed human noise made bats take longer to find food, or made them change the length of their echolocation calls, but ultimately the bats are successful.

Not all animals can adapt to noise as readily, though. Shipping activity makes humpback whales less efficient when they forage for food. Birds in urban environments could find it harder to communicate and attract mates.

And finding a quiet place to live is harder than ever. Data from the National Park Service shows that thanks to planes and visitors and even air conditioning, not even those protected areas sound like true wilderness anymore.