Echolocation is the ability to observe an environment using sound.
The sounds made by animals are sent out into the environment to bounce off of nearby objects and return information about the nearby objects by measuring the amount of time it takes for the sound waves to return.
Each sound or echo that is created bounces off of various objects within the environment and return at different times, angles, pitches and loudness’ depending on the objects in the environment to provide the animal with useful information.
Some species of animal are able to listen to these echo’s and gain vital information such as how close or far the object is, how small or large it is, whether it is dense or hollow and if it is moving or still.
This information allows these animals to find food, navigate their surroundings and become alert of danger.
Animals that are able to use echolocation typically have one transmitter (such as the mouth) and two receivers (such as the ears).
The receivers play a very important role in echolocation because animals can gain a lot of information from the sounds they hear.
Since their ears or receivers are positioned slightly apart the echo that returns enters each ear at a different time and at a different loudness.
This allows the animal to perceive not only the distance of the object but the direction as well.
All species that are capable of echolocation have their own distinct series or bursts of high frequency clicks and whistles which travel at higher speeds than most normal ambient sounds and allow them to distinguish their own echo from other echo’s and ambient noises in the environment.
An easier way to understand echolocation is to think of how your voice echo’s off of the walls in a large hollow cave or building.
When you hear your voice come back to you that is called an echo.
In some cases you can tell what direction your echo is coming from and how large the environment you’re in is.
As you move to a different environment or closer to certain objects your echo becomes either softer or louder and the time it takes for your echo to return to you also changes.
Since animals have highly developed echolocation they can perceive much more of their environment than a human can.
In fact echolocation is so developed amongst some species that they can navigate in total darkness without the use of their eyes and detect the smallest of moving objects.