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Name: Jonathan M Bowser
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Question:
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?



Replies:
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.

Christopher Grayce


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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