Bats Use a Tool to Locate and Catch Prey

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This bat gleans insects from leaves. A team of researchers discovered that by approaching a leaf at an oblique angle, it can use its echolocation system to detect stationary insects in the dark. (Inga Geipel)

Bats Use Leaves as Mirrors to Locate and Catch Their Prey

by Michael Waters Smithsonian.com

For much of 2009 and 2010, Inga Geipel huddled over a series of computer monitors in a four- by four-meter chicken-wire cage along the rainforest of Barro Colorado Island. Across the way, Geipel, a scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama, had rigged an enclosure which she’d designed to mimic the surrounding environment. A bat, some artificial leaves, a suspended dragonfly and a camera were inside this tropical pen.

Late into the night, a bleary-eyed Geipel watched to see if the common big-eared bat could use its echolocation capabilities to catch the dragonfly, even though the insect wasn’t moving or making any noise. Striking the insect would only take two or three seconds, so she was afraid to even blink.

“The funny part is that these bats are fairly small”—they weigh around 6 grams—“and the prey items they sometimes eat are as large as them,” Geipel says. “If they eat one of these prey items, they basically fall asleep. Imagine you eat a steak that’s nearly your size, and then you just fall into this food coma. So most of the time I spent watching the sleeping bat and trying not to fall asleep myself.”

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Biography
Carol graduated from Riverside White Cross School of Nursing in Columbus, Ohio and received her diploma as a registered nurse. She attended Bowling Green State University where she received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in History and Literature. She attended the University of Toledo, College of Nursing, and received a Master's of Nursing Science Degree as an Educator.

She has traveled extensively, is a photographer, and writes on medical issues. Carol has three children RJ, Katherine, and Stephen - two daughters-in-law; Suzy and Katie - two granddaughters; Isabella Marianna and Zoe Olivia - and one grandson, Alexander Paul. She also shares her life with husband Gordon Duff, many cats, two rescue pups, and two guinea pigs.

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1 COMMENT

  1. There’s a blind guy who has adapted to using echo-location, so humans can learn it. Humans can also learn to “intuitively” find small inanimate things while blindfolded, which is what they were noticing in these bats, but many animals can do this. I got to see 2 dozen barn swallows and about a dozen dragonflies hunting the same area the other day for about an hour. The dragonflies elude the swallows while simultaneously hunting the same bugs. It was an air show and a half. The swallows are amazing flyers and the dragonflies exhibit maneuvers we commonly think of as “UFO” type direction changes at high speeds. Roger Payne, Lord Rayleigh, and Edvard Munch, are all born on the day of the ears in the 20 days. Echolocation is absolutely part of our future with autonomous vehicles of all types.

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