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.”