How Bats Use Adorable Antics to Search For Prey

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Bats Wiggle Their Heads or Ears To Hunt

Curiosity led a John’s Hopkins University researcher to discover how bats use adorable antics to search for prey.

Melville J. Wohlgemuth, a postdoctoral fellow from the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, discovered that bats waggle their heads and wiggle their ears to synch with the animal’s sonar vocalizations to help it hunt.

These adorable habits demonstrate how movement can enhance signals used by senses like sight and hearing in animals and even in humans.

Bats are known to use sonar-like echolocation emitting sounds and listening for the echo to find, track and catch prey.

How bats search for prey.
A group of bats.

The Curiosity Factor

Initially, Wohlgemuth wondered why the bats he works with cocked their heads to the side, just like his pet pug. This led him to investigate and found interesting answers behind the bat’s adorable antics.

Wohlgemuth said, “Its an adorable behavior, and I was curious about the purpose, said Melville J. Wohlgemuth, a postdoctoral fellow in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. I wanted to know when bats were doing this and why. It seemed to occur as bats were targeting prey, and that turns out to be the case.”

Wohlgemuth and his team are the first to show how the head and ear movements factor into the hunt.

The Study

The researchers used a big brown bat as the subject of the study. This species of bat hunts both open and cluttered spaces.

The team trained bats to sit on a platform while tracking moving prey meal worms attached to a fishing line. To have a precise measure of the head and ear positions, the team attached used reflective markers to the top of the bat’s head and both ears.

The results were interesting. The researchers found the head waggles, about one per second. This occurred when the insect prey changed direction or moved erratically.

The ear movements happened as the worm grew closer. Though very small, the ear twitches help the bat hear the echoes it uses to track and capture the prey.

Watch the video to see how it works.

Mina Fabulous follows the news, especially what is going on in the US State Department. Mina turns State Department waffle into plain English. Mina Fabulous is the pen name of Carmen Avalino, the NewsBlaze production editor. When she isn’t preparing stories for NewsBlaze writers, she writes stories, but to separate her editing and writing identities, she uses the name given by her family and friends.