Bats and echolocation
Name: Jonathan M Bowser
I've seen millions of bats fly from the mouth of Carlsbad Caverns.
Presumably they are navigating in the dark parts of the cave using sonar.
In the cacophony of beeps and chirps what keeps "bat A" from receiving
signals from "bat B" (or thousands of nearby bats) and navigating
incorrectly. Clearly there is some cool neural mechanism to keep
things flowing smoothly. Can anyone explain this to me without invoking
terminology which would baffle the average high school student?
Not only that, but mother bats can find their kits amongst six million
other bats hanging out on a cave ceiling. I don't know how it works, but
my first guess would be that bats recognize their own (and their
children's) voices just as we recognize our own and our children's. That
is, each bat's ultrasonic shriek may be slightly different.
Bats do have some pretty cool neural mechanisms, but first off,
they don't always fly by echolocating, if there is enough available
light, they will fly by sight (their visual acuity is better than
a cat's!) and memory alone, if they are in familiar territory.
If they are using echolocation, each ear can function
independently, hearing and processing returning echoes on its
own--imagine if you were able to listen to a conversation on the
phone, and one in the room, and respond to both conversations
intelligently, and simultaneously if necessary.
As for locating a mother bat's young... The mother returns to the
spot where SHE gave birth, and feeds whoever is there - she may never
see or feed her baby again once it grows large enough to be parked
while she flies for food..
In a small colony (more correctly called "clusters"), the female
can identify her own young and will attempt to retrieve them, should
they loose their foothold and fall, but in large colonies,
if a baby falls, it will die.
Tom F Ihde
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Update: June 2012