A little clutter on the way to the refrigerator might mean taking a few extra seconds to navigate your way to a late night snack. For a bat flying around in the dark searching for a meal of insects, the "clutter" of things like leaves and trees could mean missing out on a tasty morsel of dinner altogether.
Echolocating bats adjust their vocalizations to catch insects against a changing environmental background. (Photo: Steven Dear)
A bat finds its way around with sound rather than sight. Using a sensory process called echolocation, the bat emits ultrasonic pulses that hit objects like leaves, trees, and insects, and bounce back to the bat to tell it whats in the vicinity. When an echo returns from "clutter" at the same time a sound bounces back from an insect, the bat has a real challenge figuring out where the bug is.
In an article published in the open access journal PLoS Biology, University of Maryland psychology professor Cynthia Moss reports on new research that shows bats have methods for echolocating food in "clutter" that may be more complex than scientists have thought.
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