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

red line

NEVER MISS A STORY

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our free weekly newsletter!

red line

Related items

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe to Geographical!

Adventure Canada

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

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

  • 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 Air That We Breathe
    Cities the world over are struggling to improve air quality as scandals surrounding diesel car emissions come to light and the huge health costs of po...
    Mexico City: boom town
    Twenty years ago, Mexico City was considered the ultimate urban disaster. But, recent political and economic reforms have transformed it into a hub of...
    Hung out to dry
    Wetlands are vital storehouses of biodiversity and important bulwarks against the effects of climate change, while also providing livelihoods for mill...
    The true cost of meat
    As one of the world’s biggest methane emitters, the meat industry has a lot more to concern itself with than merely dietary issues ...

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...

Climate

International shipping may be attempting to reduce its carbon footprint, but…

Geophoto

So much photographic theory is dedicated to image sharpness that…

Wildlife

Changing temperatures in East Africa are set to upset a delicate…

Climate

As the planet warms and tensions rise, Marco Magrini finds that…

Oceans

A deep-sea mission in the ocean around Bermuda confirms the…

Oceans

An oxygen-deprived ‘dead zone’ in the Arabian Sea is much…

Wildlife

Scientists working with new drone technology are hoping to reveal…

Oceans

A new virtual reality experience, ‘BBC Earth: Life in VR’,…

Nature

Faced with protecting a country more than 30 times the…

Oceans

As Chile’s president leaves office, the country designates large expanses…

Energy

More than two years after first being announced, the International…

Wildlife

The winner of the 2018 Whitley Gold Award is Pablo…

Polar

Celebrate World Penguin Day with this selection of penguin-related stories…

Geophoto

It takes a lot more than the latest research data…

Wildlife

NGOs shine a light on the underreporting of wildlife crime…

Wildlife

Pioneering laser photography is being used by scientists on the…

Geophoto

Annual competition looks to celebrate island life in all its…

Oceans

Increasing interest in offshore aquaculture is dividing environmentalists

Energy

Well-meaning promises don’t always have positive outcomes. Marco Magrini finds…

Wildlife

The RSPB introduces a new hotline for reporting the unlawful…