Academic journal article The Science Teacher

An Ear for Flying

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

An Ear for Flying

Article excerpt

Bats have an "ear" for flying in the dark because of a remarkable auditory talent that allows them to determine their physical environment by listening to echoes. But an Ohio University neurobiology professor says bats have a "feel" for it, too.

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John Zook's studies of bat flight suggest that touch-sensitive receptors on bats' wings help them maintain altitude and catch insects in midair. His preliminary findings, presented at the 2005 Society for Neuroscience meeting, revive part of a long-forgotten theory that bats use their sense of touch for nighttime navigation and hunting. Bats use echolocation to identify and navigate their environment by emitting calls and listening to the echoes that return from various objects.

Zook believes the touch-sensitive receptors on bats' wings work in conjunction with echolocation to make bats better, more accurate nocturnal hunters. Echolocation helps bats detect their surroundings, while the touch-sensitive receptors help them maintain their flight path and snag their prey.

Touch receptors take the form of tiny bumps, or raised domes, along the surface of bats' wings (see picture). …

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