Rachel A. Page and Ximena E. Bernal

Engaged in an escalating arms race, predators and prey continuously evolve more sophisticated means of outwitting one another. Predators hone their senses to detect, locate and entrap their prey. Prey in turn endeavor to avoid detection, escaping their predators by producing as few cues as possible that can reveal their location. Successful players in this coevolutionary arms race manage to survive and reproduce, staying in the game for the next round. Predators gather information needed for the hunt by paying attention not only directly to their prey, but also to other hunters. Bats are the most ecologically diverse group of mammals and live in a wide range of environments—from deserts to tropical forests—and feed on a wide variety of prey, from insects, to mammals, amphibians and fish. As such, they provide myriad examples of diverse predation strategies, and thus are an excellent avenue to investigate questions of how predators gather information to hunt. Bats detect and capture their prey using the standard five senses they share with most other animals, including passive listening, which they use to attend to the sounds of prey moving through the environment. They also intercept communication between prey, such as listening for their prey’s mating calls. In addition, bats have a sixth sense, echolocation—they actively listen for the echoes of high frequency signals they produce and direct at their prey. They can augment information obtained by direct observation of prey by eavesdropping on other bats as they hunt, both listening to the echolocation signals of members of their own species and by paying attention to individuals of other bat species that hunt the same prey. In this review, we explore the diverse information gathering strategies of predatory bats, investigate the sensory and cognitive adaptations that underlie them, and suggest new frontiers for research to better understand the intricacies of the escalating arms race between predators and their prey.

Read the paper in full here. This paper is part of the Special Feature: Sensory Ecology and Cognition in Social Decisions.