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Word of the Week: Echolocation

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Welcome to Word of the Week! Stay tuned for a new word each week to amp up your nature vocabulary!

The word of the week is echolocation [eh-kow-low-kay-shn] (noun): the physiological process for locating distant or invisible objects by sound waves reflected back to the emitter from the objects.

Echolocation is used by animals for orientation, obstacle avoidance, food procurement, social interactions and more. Some animals that use echolocation include most species of bats, whales, dolphins and porpoises.

Humans are capable of echolocation too.We can create noises by tapping a cane, lightly stomping our feet and clicking our fingers or our tongues and sense echoes from the environment us. Sonar devices employed by ships and submarines also use a form of echolocation to locate other sea vessels.

Bats echolocate by emitting sound pulses of high frequency using their mouths or noses and listening for the echo bouncing off the object. The phrase “blind as a bat” is a popular misconception that originated form people observing the zigzag flight patterns of bats that tend to fly relatively close to objects in their vicinity. Today, we know that this is due to their use of echolocation when flying to detect both objects and prey and to map their their surrounding environment with remarkable precision.

Want to know what echolocation sounds like? Go on an evening hike through High Park and use a bat detector which converts the ultrasonic sounds generated by a bat to a more audible frequency for humans.

Join us on our summer bat walks through High Park and use one of our hand-held bat detectors to hear the bats’ ultrasonic calls as they swoop and loop during their evening hours. Click here to learn more.