Bats are the monarchy of the night sky.
There are over 1,000 species of bats that fly through the night, but only 80 species of non-echolocatimg nocturnal birds. Bats are also a double threat because they can use their eyes to watch where they're going while using echolocation to hunt insects, an American Friends of Tel Aviv University news release reported.
"Imagine driving down the highway: Everything is clear in the distance, but objects are a blur when you pass them," researcher Doctor Arjan Boonman said. "Well, echolocation gives bats the unique ability to home in on small objects -- mostly insects -- while flying at high speeds."
Bats primary dinnertime is around dusk, when there is still a good amount of light. Since visual data is translated faster and at a higher resolution than echolocation, researchers weren't sure why the "second sight" was necessary in the first place. The team wanted to figure out why the bats developed their extra sense.
The researchers compared at what distance the two senses could "see" small objects. In order to accomplish this they played different bat calls in soundproof room and determined how it bounced off of dead insects. They also calculated how well the bats would be able to see the insects visually.
The team found echolocation was double as effective as vision in medium to low light for objects that were about 40 feet away.
Echolocation also gives bats the ability to "see through" objects that their regular vision would be blocked by, such as greenery.
On the down side echolocation was not effective in detecting large faraway objects.
The team believes the bats take advantage of the benefits of both senses. The team theorized that nocturnal birds did not develop echolocation for "anatomical reasons."
"We believe that bats are constantly integrating two streams of information -- one from vision and one from echolocation -- to create a single image of the world," Doctor Yossi Yovel of Tel Aviv University's Department of Zoology "This image has a higher definition than the one created by vision alone."