Bats are not blind. They have the five senses that we also have (sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch), and they have three extra senses, what makes them ‘living multi-functional antennae’. Let us begin with their most famous extra sense.


1. Echolocation

In addition to ‘passive hearing’, bats have ‘active hearing’. This sense is also known as ‘biosonar’ or ‘echolocation’. Basically, bats emit ultrasounds, in other words sounds with a frequency higher than 20 KHz, above our hearing sensitivity. Those ultrasounds are reflected by objects on their way. Bats listen to the echoes produced, and so they are able to obtain a lot of information about their environment, like positions of obstacles and even the texture of prey. Some bats, especially insect-eaters like Myotis, may have a very detailed image of the surroundings based only on sound, and not light. See chapter 2 in the book “The Blind Watchmaker” by Richard Dawkins.

© Merlin Tuttle
Bat Conservation International 

If you want to read more about echolocation, here is a list of important bibliography:

  • Fenton MB. 1985. Communication in the Chiroptera. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  • Griffin DR. 1973. Listening in the dark. Dover Publications Inc.
  • Bernard E. 2003. Ecos na escuridão [Echoes in the dark]. Ciência Hoje 32(190): 14-20.


Video: There is an awesome video about echolocation produced by Knowledge Adventure and distributed by Bat Conservation International. Watch the video "Echolocation"! Here is a link to its source.

2. Thermal perception

Vampire bats have this seventh sense. They have organs in their faces that allow a fine sense of temperature. The use this sense to locate blood vessels that are more superficial, so they avoid making deep bites and waking up the victim.


3. Magnetic orientation

In November 2006 an eighth sense has been discovered in bats: magnetic orientation. Bats of the genus Eptesicus can feel the Earth’s magnetic field, and use it to guide their movements over hundreds of kilometers. See the original paper below:

Holland RA, Thorup K, Vonhof MJ, Cochran WW, Wikelski M.  2006. Navigation: bat orientation using Earth's magnetic field". Nature 444(7120): 702.