Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Bat signals

Bat signals
09 May
2018
Scientists working with new drone technology are hoping to reveal the hidden secrets behind the bat’s uncanny navigation skills

In Sierra County, New Mexico, a drone rises from the ground and hovers near the mouth of a cave, waiting. The cavern is empty, but its residents, a colony of Brazilian free tailed bats, will soon be coming home. As dawn breaks and the swarm returns, the drone picks up the chirps of more than 3,000 individuals and records their flight patterns.

The chirocopter (pictured below), named after the biological group chiroptera, has been developed by biologists at Saint Mary’s College, Indiana, and will be flown outside bat caves in order to help answer important questions about the creatures’ movement patterns. Previously, scientists have used kites, balloons and towers to capture bat flight. However, ‘bats fly in complex trajectories, assemble in large groups, fly thousands of metres above ground and reach speeds exceeding 100 kilometres per hour,’ says Laura Kloepper, one of the biologists who helped build the drone. She hopes the device’s manoeuvrability will be able to keep up with the bats in flight. To help matters, the drone is fitted with a thermal camera and an acoustic sensor all designed to offer previously unobtainable glimpses of behaviour inside a bat swarm.

drone

It’s thought that the bats’ extraordinary skills in the air could prove beneficial to our own forms of navigation technology. ‘Biomimicry is a field of science in which we look to living organisms to help us solve technological problems,’ says Kloepper. It’s well documented that bats use echolocation, creating a sonic map of their surroundings using high-frequency noises. However, biologists are stumped by the animals’ ability to avoid confusing each other within large, noisy swarms. In fact, bats rarely collide mid-air.

By revealing how the bats adjust to their own dense populations and filter out interfering signals, technology from ocean mapping to submarine navigation could benefit. ‘We use sonar in a lot of devices, but we still face the challenge of mutual interference,’ explains Kloepper. ‘Bats have clearly solved this problem.’ 

This was published in the May 2018 edition of Geographical magazine

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our weekly newsletter and get a free collection of eBooks!

geo line break v3

Related items

Subscribe to Geographical!

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Sign up for our weekly newsletter today and get a FREE eBook collection!

geo line break v3

University of Winchester

geo line break v3

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • Natural Capital: Putting a price on nature
    Natural capital is a way to quantify the value of the world that nature provides for us – the air, soils, water, even recreational activity. Advocat...
    The Human Game – Tackling football’s ‘slave trade’
    Few would argue with football’s position as the world’s number one sport. But as Mark Rowe discovers, this global popularity is masking a sinister...
    Essential oil?
    Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many circles it is considered the scourge of the natural world, for the deforestation and habita...
    National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    The green dragon awakens
    China has achieved remarkable economic success following the principle of developing first and cleaning up later. But now the country with the world's...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Nature

Natural capital is a way to quantify the value of…

Tectonics

The reason for the unusual location of Mount St Helens…

Climate

Most plants thicken their leaves in response to higher carbon…

Climate

Not just the preserve of flatulent cows, methane is causing…

Climate

As the United States’ Supreme Court delays a landmark climate…

Geophoto

Of Britain's 15 national parks, the New Forest is probably…

Energy

The Treasury has announced that it is considering imposing a…

Tectonics

Major earthquakes are triggering seismic activity half the world away

Climate

Marco Magrini finds that a warming world also means a…

Wildlife

Unchecked tourism is potentially reducing the number of cheetah cubs that…

Oceans

A relocated military base in Okinawa, Japan will cause ‘irreversible’…

Climate

The ongoing recovery of the planet’s ozone layer is being…

Oceans

The Ocean Cleanup has launched System 001, a floating barrier…

Nature

New videos reveal how plants respond to wounds, sending forth…

Geophoto

The recent heatwave had everyone longing for a drop of…

Wildlife

The demand for horseshoe crab blood – vital for testing…

Climate

One of the problems in getting accurate climate science out…

Wildlife

Italy is divided over the future of its wolves and…

Energy

A Scottish tidal power project in the Pentland Firth has…

Oceans

The world’s first full global analysis of beaches reveals the…