Echolocation: Definition, Principles, How It Works, and Examples

Echolocation is – The natural sonar system, or what is then more familiarly called echolocation, occurs when an animal emits sound waves which then reflect an echo when it hits an object. Then, this reflection can provide various kinds of information about the distance and size of the object.

Therefore, this ability can greatly assist the navigation of animals that have minimal vision or animals that live in conditions that do not support vision, such as living in dark environments and underwater environments. It is known that more than a thousand species of animals then carry out this natural sonar system, such as bats, all toothed whales, and also some small mammals.

In general, animals that use echolocation are nocturnal animals, diggers, and marine inhabitants who rely heavily on echolocation to be able to find food in environments with little or no use of light. Usually, animals already have several methods of echolocation, such as vibrating their throats to flapping their wings.

For this reason, certain types of nocturnal birds that live by hunting in dark cave environments can make short clicking sounds with the syrinx, the bird’s vocal organ, to perform echolocation. In addition, some other animals can also do this by clicking their tongues, as the tenrec, a rat-like animal from Madagascar, and the Vietnamese pygmy dormouse, can’t see.

On this occasion, we will discuss more about echolocation, for more details, see this article, Sinaumed’s.

Definition of Echolocation

Research from the Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals (Second Edition) explains that echolocation is the process by which animals then obtain an assessment of their environment. Animals will emit sounds and hear echoes as sound waves reflect different objects into their surroundings.

Meanwhile, in a very general sense, echolocation is any animal that makes a sound then can hear an echo from a large obstacle. The term echolocation can also be interpreted as an animal that makes use of this ability on a regular basis as well as in finding prey, navigating, and avoiding predators.

In the Big Indonesian Dictionary (KBBI), echolocation is the ability of living things (especially animals) to make sounds and recapture sound reflections from surrounding objects, to function as a navigation tool.

A shorter definition of echolocation is biological sonar which then becomes a unique hearing tool for use by a number of animal species. This echolocation process works by emitting high-frequency sound waves and listening to where the sound bounces back (echoes). That way, animals that do echolocation can identify objects and can also navigate their surroundings even when they’re not looking.

Echolocation is also a logical strategy in the ocean, where sound travels five times faster than in air and returns echoes that then provide information about the distance and size of objects. For example, dolphins do echolocation in search of much smaller entities, so they can distinguish these objects well. Echolocation in this dolphin is believed to have occurred around 1947.

The first echolocation was performed by placing a rubber suction cup over the eye of a Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus). Still from the same research, these animals then have the ability to swim and avoid various obstacles. The ultrasonic pulse can also be detected when the blindfolded dolphin swims and avoids obstacles. In this case, the obstacles are referred to, such as vertical mazes or suspended loop pipes.

Basic Principles of Echolocation

Reported by Kidadl , this echolocation can occur due to a source that produces sound waves, which are usually experienced by animals such as bats or whales. Then sound waves propagate through the air or water which then bounces back from any object that falls in its path.

The sound-producing animal will then sense the time duration that separates the successive echoes and know the distance between each of them between nearby objects. If the target object is moving, then the echolocation organism can make a quick detection according to the sound that is reflected.

Examples of Echolocation in Animals

Echolocation or also known as biosonar is a biological sonar used by several types of animals. Animals that have this ability will then emit a sound and listen to the reflection of the sound which is also reflected by the objects around it.

By using this reflected sound, the animal can identify the presence of objects. Echolocation is also used by animals as a navigation tool to then travel or hunt.

The term echolocation was also coined by Donald Griffin who worked together with Robert Galambos who discovered the ability of echolocation in bats in 1938. Long before that, in the 18th century, the Italian scientist Lazzaro Spallanzani with a series of experiments then concluded that bats navigate not by sight but through hearing. At that time, echolocation in whales had not been explained, then only two decades later echolocation in whales was described by Schevill and McBride.

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1. Bats

One of the most famous animals with their echolocation abilities is the bat. As nocturnal animals, bats use their inherent sonar to catch fast flying prey at night. Most bats, like the little Daubenton bat, tighten their laryngeal muscles to produce sounds above the human hearing range, also known as ultrasonic waves.

In fact, the sound waves produced by these bats can provide reflections back and provide bats with information about the size, texture, distance and direction of an object or their prey.

However, what needs to be underlined is that this bat echolocation method can be said to be very diverse, or to be more precise, between one species and another it is not necessarily the same. Therefore, it allows them to differentiate their sound among other bats in the environment.

For example, in European bats that “whisper” in front of moths so that their prey cannot then detect their echolocation. However, some moths have developed defenses against echolocating bats. The tiger moth has the ability to flex the tymbal organs on either side of its chest to produce a clicking sound which can interfere with the sonar of the bat and keep it away from predators.

2. Marine Animals

Echolocation is a clever strategy in the ocean, where sound can then travel five times faster than in air. Dolphins and other toothed whales, such as the beluga, have the ability to conduct their natural sonar system through special organs known as dorsal bursae, which are located on the top of their heads, near their blowholes.

Fat deposits in this area, later known as the melon, reduce the impedance, or through resistance to sound waves, between the dolphin’s body and the water, which makes the sound clearer. That way, the dolphins can detect their surroundings.

Meanwhile, other blubber deposits, which extend from the whale’s lower jaw to its ears, allow them to pick up echoes coming from prey, such as fish or squid.

Harbor porpoises, the orca’s favorite prey, will make high-frequency echolocation clicks so fast that their predators cannot hear them. That way, it can still do echolocation in disguise. In general, most marine mammal echolocation sound waves are too high for humans to hear, except in sperm whales, orcas, and a few other species of dolphin.

3. Pigeons

Pigeons have the ability to recognize their surroundings in the dark. This ability is due to the ability of pigeons to echolocation. However, the ability of pigeons to use echolocation has actually been debated among animal experts since ancient times.

This is because pigeons then have quite good five senses when compared to other echolocation animals. However, recent studies and research recorded in Live Science later revealed that pigeons have the ability to echolocate as well as be able to detect the Earth’s magnetic field at a certain level through the nerves in their noses.

That is why doves can return to their nests without having any significant obstacles. For their echolocation abilities, pigeons also generally use low-frequency sound waves to display paths on a map that they have recorded in their memory in their brains.

4. Cellulitis

Many people still equate shrews and mice, even though the two are very different. Shrews are mammals belonging to the Soricidae family and they can develop echolocation abilities because their eyesight is very poor.

Page Britannica later noted that shrew children will be born blind. Although they look weak, shrews are also survivors in the wild. Evolution from ancestors to modern shrews took place 48 million years ago. Unlike mice, shrews are not a favorite prey for predators. This is because shrews emit a very pungent odor in times of urgency.


Apart from hunting or when defending themselves, some animals use natural sonar systems to explore their habitat. For example, the great brown bats, which became widespread across the Americas, used their sonar to roam around noisy environments, such as forests bustling with the calls of other animals. During seasonal floods, dolphins in the Amazon river can also move around tree branches and other obstacles using their echolocation abilities.

It turns out that not only animals, some humans can also do this. Most humans who do echolocation then have visual impairments and use these skills to carry out their daily activities.

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Some humans will make clicks, either with their tongue or with an object, such as a stick, which then navigates through the resulting echoes. The unique fact is that when scanning the human brain that performs echolocation, it is seen that the part of the brain that processes vision plays an active role during this echolocation process.

From the explanation above, it can be said that echolocation is a biological sonar which then becomes a unique hearing tool for use by a number of animal species.

Recommended Books Related to Ecolocation

1. Biology Dictionary

Biology is the science that studies the physical aspects of life. The term “biology” is borrowed from the Dutch “biologie” which is also derived from a combination of the Greek words “life” and “logos” (symbol, science). The object of study of biology today is very broad and includes all living things in various aspects of their lives. So, biology is the study of all living things. This allows us to solve problems that are still “nature’s secrets.” Biology is a pure science group (poure science), its position is the same as physics, chemistry, and mathematics.

2. Philosophy of Biology

Science is basically born and develops as a consequence of human efforts, both to understand the realities of life from the universe and to solve life’s problems faced, as well as develop and preserve the results that have been achieved by humans before. These efforts accumulate in such a way as to form a body of knowledge with a unique structure. The structure is not finished and established, because it will always change along with the times.

Science is not an eternal building, because knowledge is actually a part that is never finished. The material for the Philosophy of Biology book discusses science and scientific methods, philosophy and science, the concept of knowledge, the development of science, and the existence and role of humans.

This Biology Philosophy book is intended for biology students in particular, and philosophical observers in general. The author hopes that this Biological Philosophy book can be helpful and useful. Input, criticism, and suggestions for improving this book are very much expected so that in the next compilation it can be even better.

3. Soil Ecology and Soil Macrobiology

The green revolution, which stimulated plants to produce high yields by relying on chemicals, has now been proven to have failed in producing healthy food. Even though the yield is quite high, the production produced through this revolution contains associated toxic materials or residual fertilizers/pesticides which are carcinogenic (cancer-triggering) or nerve-damaging compounds.

This is also one of the reasons why our country’s fruit/vegetable production is not selling well in the world market. Therefore, the world of agriculture, especially in developed countries, has been redirected to the concept of modern organic farming, one of the core of which is to engineer biological bodies to play a more effective role in increasing agricultural production (Soil Biotechnology). This book presents a discussion of soil ecology, including the interaction of soil biota and microbes as producers of additive substances. Then, the discussion continues with soil biological bodies and their main functions.

4. Complete Biology Dictionary

The world of education and science is currently growing rapidly accompanied by an increasing flow of information and scientific knowledge entering Indonesia, one example is in the field of Biology. With. the increasing number of new discoveries which are also accompanied by the increasing number of new terms in Biology must be known to the public at large, especially for students, university students and the general public, as well as the scientific community.

“COMPLETE DICTIONARY OF BIOLOGY” is one of the supporting tools that can help readers to understand important terms in Biology. It contains a lot of material that is very important to know. Therefore it is not wrong if this “COMPLETE BIOLOGICAL DICTIONARY” is owned by students, university students and the general public.

5. Macro Algae (Biological, Ecological Studies)

Macro algae or often referred to as seaweed play an important role in aquatic ecology. Its main function is the main food source which is rich in protein, both for marine organisms themselves and humans. And it is not wrong to position macroalgae as a future commodity to meet human food and nutritional needs. Various types of macroalgae have been widely used as industrial raw materials, both food, chemical and pharmaceutical. In addition, the prospects for the export market are wide open.

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