Do you hear what I see? Vocalization relative to visual detection rates of Hawaiian hoary bats (Lasiurus cinereus semotus)

Ecology and Evolution
By: , and 



Bats vocalize during flight as part of the sensory modality called echolocation, but very little is known about whether flying bats consistently call. Occasional vocal silence during flight when bats approach prey or conspecifics has been documented for relatively few species and situations. Bats flying alone in clutter-free airspace are not known to forgo vocalization, yet prior observations suggested possible silent behavior in certain, unexpected situations. Determining when, why, and where silent behavior occurs in bats will help evaluate major assumptions of a primary monitoring method for bats used in ecological research, management, and conservation. In this study, we recorded flight activity of Hawaiian hoary bats (Lasiurus cinereus semotus) under seminatural conditions using both thermal video cameras and acoustic detectors. Simultaneous video and audio recordings from 20 nights of observation at 10 sites were analyzed for correspondence between detection methods, with a focus on video observations in three distance categories for which accompanying vocalizations were detected. Comparison of video and audio detections revealed that a high proportion of Hawaiian hoary bats “seen” on video were not simultaneously “heard.” On average, only about one in three visual detections within a night had an accompanying call detection, but this varied greatly among nights. Bats flying on curved flight paths and individuals nearer the cameras were more likely to be detected by both methods. Feeding and social calls were detected, but no clear pattern emerged from the small number of observations involving closely interacting bats. These results may indicate that flying Hawaiian hoary bats often forgo echolocation, or do not always vocalize in a way that is detectable with common sampling and monitoring methods. Possible reasons for the low correspondence between visual and acoustic detections range from methodological to biological and include a number of biases associated with the propagation and detection of sound, cryptic foraging strategies, or conspecific presence. Silent flight behavior may be more prevalent in echolocating bats than previously appreciated, has profound implications for ecological research, and deserves further characterization and study.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Do you hear what I see? Vocalization relative to visual detection rates of Hawaiian hoary bats (Lasiurus cinereus semotus)
Series title Ecology and Evolution
DOI 10.1002/ece3.3196
Volume 7
Issue 17
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center
Description 11 p.
First page 6669
Last page 6679
Country United States
State Hawai'i