Ultrasonic Ranging in Animals


Bats use a variety of ultrasonic ranging techniques to detect their prey. They can detect frequencies beyond 100 kHz, possibly up to 200 kHz. Many insects have good ultrasonic hearing, and most of these are nocturnal insects listening for echolocating bats. These include many groups of moths, beetles, praying mantids and lacewings. Upon hearing a bat, some insects will make evasive manoeuvres to escape being caught. Ultrasonic frequencies trigger a reflex action in the noctuid moth that causes it to drop slightly in its flight to evade attack. Tiger moths also emit clicks which may disturb bats' echolocation, and in other cases may advertise the fact that they are poisonous by emitting sound.

Dogs and cats' hearing range extends into the ultrasound; the top end of a dog's hearing range is about 45 kHz, while a cat's is 64 kHz. The wild ancestors of cats and dogs evolved this higher hearing range to hear high-frequency sounds made by their preferred prey, small rodents. A dog whistle is a whistle that emits ultrasound, used for training and calling dogs. The frequency of most dog whistles is within the range of 23 to 54 kHz.

Toothed whales, including dolphins, can hear ultrasound and use such sounds in their navigational system to orient and to capture prey. Porpoises have the highest known upper hearing limit at around 160 kHz. Several types of fish can detect ultrasound. In the order Clupeiformes, members of the subfamily Alosinae have been shown to be able to detect sounds up to 180 kHz, while the other subfamilies can hear only up to 4 kHz. Ultrasound generator/speaker systems are sold as electronic pest control devices, which are claimed to frighten away rodents and insects, but there is no scientific evidence that the devices work.

Ultrasonic testing is a type of nondestructive testing commonly used to find flaws in materials and to measure the thickness of objects. Frequencies of 2 to 10 MHz are common, but for special purposes other frequencies are used. Inspection may be manual or automated and is an essential part of modern manufacturing processes. Most metals can be inspected as well as plastics and aerospace composites. Lower frequency ultrasound can also be used to inspect less dense materials such as wood, concrete and cement.

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Journal of Imaging and Interventional Radiology