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For many of us, the knowledge that has been passed down from our parents, friends, and even some less informed teachers have been that bats, the creatures of the night, are blind. However, the thought that these creatures cannot see is far from the case. Bats instead have adapted over time through the phenomenon of evolution, gifting them a much less conventional method of sight but one that is perfectly suited for their needs.
In the conventional sense, bats can see but not particularly well. Bats have very small eyes that offer very limited vision with no ability to render light or vibrant colors. In daylight, this vision is rendered null and void. However, in situations and environments where there is pitch-black darkness, bats have an innate ability to see without the refraction of light, making their vision better than humans in situations such as this. However, this is dependent on the species of bat in question. In some cases, such as the fruit bat, for example, they will rely fully on their eyesight to hunt for food.
Their vision is particularly sharp when navigating in the darkness and in some cases, they will even be able to see ultraviolet light. Then to shock you even further, there are some specific bats of the near 1,300 types out there that can see colors. These are the Pallas’s long-tongued bat and the Seba’s short-tailed bat, respectively. These bats can see ultraviolet light and wavelengths of color that even the human eye cannot render. However, as a rule of thumb, most bats rely on a special technique to see and this is echolocation.
Echolocation is the ability to see through sound. It is a technique that is used across the animal kingdom by whales, dolphins, birds, and even some humans. This ability involves animals making high pitched noises from their mouth or nose to generate frequencies which help them perceive the world around them.
So, when bats are flying at high speeds through the air, this ability allows them to analyze their location in the world, avoid crashing into objects, and even allows them to establish if they can fit through gaps as small as 3/8 of an inch wide. This skill also allows the bats to understand where their group of bats is at all times, meaning that they can remain in a tight-knit pack even when flying through the vast skies at night. This noise is, in most cases, completely imperceptible to the human ear. This is because the bats will make noises from 20 kilohertz to 200 kilohertz in frequency, meaning that only the sharpest human ears will be able to hear at the lowest end of this scale.
So in short, bats may not be the most gifted creatures in terms of conventional vision. However, they have much more complex methods that allow them to see better than any human can do in the dark of night. So, the phrase ‘blind as a bat’ may not be quite as apt as you once thought.